Sunday, 25 October 2020

Breathing Part 1: Why?

Breathing.  You'd think it was simple.  Just breathe. As essential as it is to human life, breathing properly is not as simple as it sounds.

A few days ago I posted something on my IG feed about nasal breathing and the benefits I've seen from using it to help my stress and general health this summer.  Within minutes I started receiving private messages from people saying that what I had posted was very helpful and asking for more information.  I am by no means an expert and I barely consider myself at an intermediate skill level with breathwork.  However, I can certainly provide you some resources to find the information you need and tips on what has helped me in my journey.

Let's start at the beginning.  In my training as a physiotherapist (almost 25 years ago) we were taught all the facts of cardiopulmonary anatomy and function.  Once I started practicing, I found myself wrapping towels around a patient's lower trunk and asking them to breathe in and create pressure around the towel. I got confused stares. I tried in vain to teach people to breathe "through their bellies" and expand as they inhaled, which was a foreign concept and counterintuitive to almost everyone.  Honestly, even though I knew the diaphragm is an integral part of the "core," I got so frustrated I almost completely abandoned teaching the mechanics of breathing early on in my career.  Nobody cared, nobody got it.  If you were my patient between between 2003 and 2007 I'm sorry I failed you.

Then in 2007 I had my first child. Nicholas was as feisty as his mother. The more he cried, the more ramped up I'd get and then more he'd cry. We fed off each other.  If I was stressed, he'd cry.  If I was calm, he was calm.  I quickly found that the only way I could settle him to sleep was to first calm myself  though breathing.  I would start taking deep slow breaths with him glued to my chest.  Before long his breathing would match mine and he would fall into a deep sleep.  Through the terrible twos, the trying threes, and the f'ing fours we'd sit together and take deep breaths in and out to break out of hysterical moments.  He is now 13 and we still do this.  It's our routine.  It has only just now occurred to me that this was the start of my awareness of how powerful the breath is in changing our mental state. I had discovered it quite by accident, but now have a knowing that I can't deny.

There are many ways to look at breathing and the effects of the breath...mechanical, anatomical, biochemical, neurophysiological, metaphysical, spiritual.  Brian MacKenzie says that the breath is the remote control for the mind, but I would also say that the mind is remote control for the breath. They inform each other.  If there is one thing that both responds to and provides feedback from ALL the systems in the human body, it's the breath, and if there was ever a time when everyone should be motivated to have really efficient lungs and immune system, it should be the midst of a global pandemic involving a virus that attacks the lungs.

Why should we care about how we breathe?  Other than the fact that if we don't breathe regularly WE DIE, there are other qualitative reasons to consider how we breathe.  It's all about the autonomic nervous system.  Sympathetic and parasympathetic balance.  The Chinese call it ying and yang.  We call it something more "scientific." We are always in a state of either sympathetic dominance or parasympathetic dominance.  Being perfectly balanced is rare. There are times when both are necessary and it is appropriate to be in either one state or the other.  If you are having to defend your life, run from an attacker, defend your thesis, or athletically perform at a high level, it might be beneficial for you to be in a sympathetically dominant state.  However, we were never meant to be in that state all the time.  There are times when you need to rest and digest, to recover, to not be on defense. In today's world we increasingly find ourselves stuck in flight or fight mode without a way to shut it down.  Enter insomnia, anxiety, irritability, allergies, asthma, irritable bowel...and when our systems can't sustain that anymore?  We crash. Enter depression, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, poor athletic performance, loss of concentration, chronic fatigue, and the list goes on.

Where does breathing come in?  Listen up.

1) We can discover what state we are in simply by observing our ability to breathe in that moment.

2) We can change our autonomic nervous system state through breathing (as I discovered with my infant son).

It's really quite phenomenal.  We can both gain immediate feedback as to what state our nervous system is in AND change it almost immediately, simply through the breath.  Breathing is literally at the epicenter of it all.

Don't believe me?  Try one of these two exercises for several days and see what you discover:

1) Box Breathing

  • Cadence: 1:1:1:1
  • Example: Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds.  Repeat x 10. Chose a time you can complete for 10 reps.
  • Whatever time you are able to complete, repeat your boxes daily.  Observe how your ability to complete your boxes is influenced by:
    • Amount of sleep you had the night before
    • Level of stress and current mental state
    • Level of fatigue from training
    • Amount of alcohol consumption
    • Amount of water consumption
    • What you eat
    • Medications you take

2) Nasal Breathing While Running

  • Keep your mouth closed while running at a slow steady state (zone 1-2).
  • Run at a pace you can sustain with your mouth CLOSED.
  • Observe how your ability to keep your mouth closed is influenced by:
    • Amount of sleep you had the night before
    • Level stress and current mental state
    • Level of fatigue from training
    • Amount of alcohol consumption
    • Amount of water consumption
    • Environmental temperature
    • What you eat
    • Medications you take

Do this daily for a week and observe how challenging or easy certain days are.  You will find some days are super easy and some days are impossible.  Why?

I plan to write at least 2 more parts to this series, exploring specific breathing techniques anyone can do to improve their awareness of and control over their autonomic nervous system, as well as provide links to many resources I've found helpful.

However, you have to experience how powerfully your breath can inform you of your physical,  physiological and mental and spiritual state before you can become convinced as to WHY you should be trying to take control over this area of your health in the first place.

So go do one of these two breathing exercises and see what you discover!

Monday, 3 August 2020

Lessons on Grotto Mountain

Grotto Mountain. It’s not a beautiful mountain, but I don’t always climb beautiful mountains. I climb them to look at other beautiful mountains or valleys. As usual I was chasing those views today but after 2 hours of quad shredding climbing I was forced to turn around only 400’ from the summit. A thunderstorm was suddenly rolling in across the valley almost 5 hours early. Really?! 🙇‍♀️ But it was like the voice of God telling me to get down off that mountain, NOW. Standing alone on a very exposed 9000’ peak in a lightening storm is not really a good idea so I did - but to say I was very disappointed is an understatement. As I started downclimbing 😣 and cursing just a little, I started to understand.
Grotto Mountain doesn’t carry its beauty as a crown. It’s beauty and it’s namesake are discreetly wrapped in a massive breathtaking cathedral of rock hidden from view where only those who seek will find it. I had barely glanced at it on my way up. I wasn’t meant to summit, or run ridgelines today. I was meant to see the Grotto.

#grottomountain #primalwisdom #alwaysrespectthemountain #naturetherapy #staygrounded #payattention #downclimbingsucks #ultramindset #salmingrunningnorthamerica


I always feel excited climbing a mountain. Always. Today I felt anxious and a foreboding looking at the ridge. Almost turned back twice. I truly think God was yelling at me to LISTEN up already and get my ass back down before I committed to something that may get me in trouble. He knew something I didn’t. 

Sometimes God whispers to us and sometimes he has to YELL. 

As I was climbing up that mountain I had summit fever. I wanted to bag that peak, run that ridge, and get down before the storm hit. I climbed with a ferocity that I haven’t in a long time, panting and puffing in the thinning air like I was wearing an N95 mask. In several places it was serious scrambling requiring all 4 limbs. Several times I looked back thinking, damn. This would be hell to go down. I hope the other side of the ridge is easier. 

All this time I was circling a huge rock cathedral. I stopped to take a panoramic picture but what I had photographed barely registered in my hypoxic brain. It was majestic. It was breathtakingly beautiful.  I was looking at the grotto, the iconic rock formation for which the mountain was named, wrapped in columns of rock that seemed to protect it from external  forces...and I didn’t even notice. See picture at top of post.

Finally I stopped. I almost turned back. I realized I was only half way up and I felt something bad deep in my stomach. But I decided to ignore it and pressed on. I was conditioned not to stop and I was selfish. I had come too far and I wanted to see what was on top. 

Finally I broke out of the alpine and started the last ascent to the top. I celebrated every 100’ of gain as it started to sprinkle. Go go go! You’re almost there. Just summit and head back down. I kept bargaining. When I was only 400’ from the summit,

The thunder rolled. 

From far across the valley, on the other side of Canmore, the clouds darkened and thunder rumbled. When you are standing on a scree embankment almost 9000’ above sea level, dizzy with exhaustion, cracking thunder is hard to ignore. 

Keep in mind I was already going against all my instincts and all the messages the universe was trying to send me in continuing up that mountain. That thunder was yelling at me to wake up already and LISTEN. “Get your freaking ass off this mountain” was what popped into my head and this time I didn’t ignore it. I felt that knowing. I felt genuine fear. #alwaysrespectthemountain

I immediately turned around and headed down. Going up was slow and going down wasn’t much faster. The rocks would get very slippery and treacherous in the rain and as I watched rain drops dot the rocks, I prayed out loud that God would stop the rain until I made it below the tree line. Miraculously it stopped raining...until the EXACT moment I crossed the tree line. Tell me God isn’t real. 

As I slowly and carefully picked my way down that mountain the thunder continued to occasionally roll which would spur my feet into further downward action. When I passed the half way mark the sun came out and I fumed. Really?! Am I in the Hunger Games arena?

But sometimes God knows things we don’t. Like maybe I would have gotten lost on that ridge. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it down before the real thunderstorm developed at 3:30pm this afternoon. As an ultra runner I’ve conditioned myself to ignore pain and fatigue and the urge to stop. “Don’t stop” is a mantra that has gotten me to a lot of places I am proud of, including 100 mile finishes. But through it all I’ve always felt pulled towards my goal, not pushed, not repulsed.

Maybe I need to learn to listen when my instincts feel more like a magnetic repulsion rather than attraction. Today what seemed like a good idea required an addendum. So be it. 

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Reasons vs Excuses

Nothing pisses me off more than excuses.  I intensely despise excuses and have absolutely no tolerance for them.

I have tagged numerous IG posts with #noexcuses and #nononsense and I gravitate towards books like Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leaf Babin and What Doesn't Kill Us by Scott Carney.  My level of intolerance for unjustified excuses reached a whole new level this week and I found myself pounding the road this morning raging against the excuse machine.  I found myself silently shouting expletives and mentally telling everyone off.

And then later this afternoon as I reclined on my patio with a cold drink, I opened up The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene (happens to be free on Audible right now so grab it!!!).  I've been reading his textbook on what drives humanity for over a year.  Every chapter gives me a lot to process.  There is one overriding theme to every single chapter: whenever you feel strong resistance to a trait in another person, examine yourself.  You are likely repressing or resisting something within yourself that leads you to resist and criticize others.

I am in a leadership role at work and needless to say it has been anything but easy during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Decisions have to be made in minutes and hours that would usually take days and weeks.  Tasks need to be executed immediately when usually they could take weeks. A day has become a week and a week a month.  If you can't keep up you could cost your company or your coworkers  desperately needed income and threaten the viability of...everything.  The stakes have never been higher. With great power comes great responsibility and with that great expectations.

So amidst this high pressure environment, when I find someone on my team who hasn't done what is expected of them and called them on it, I have been hearing a lot of excuses.  This has invariably made me rather impatient and distressed.   But when is an excuse a reason? I have determined that a reason is valid and an excuse is not.  There are always reasons behind excuses, but rarely do we recognize or share them.  This is my analysis of the difference between reasons and excuses.

A reason for not doing something is usually delivered proactively and offensively.   As humans we tend to think about reasons for not doing something in advance of the action, not after.  It is usually identified before the deadline and offered without being asked.  It will be given from a position of control or in an attempt to demonstrate that control is being regained.  A reason is delivered with very few clear and concise words, with a request for permission rather than an apology.  The person who isn't going to meet the target offers a reason, takes ownership of the task and speaks honestly.

An excuse for not doing something is usually delivered reactively and defensively.  As humans we often think about excuses for not doing something after the deadline has passed or at the last possible minute. We tend to only share excuses when asked and they are many times delivered with a downwardly shifted gaze and a defensive apology that is very verbose in an effusive attempt to explain and avoid any silence which will allow further questions.  Excuses deflect all responsibility and are lies we tell ourselves and others to cover up the truth.  We think of excuses after we have ignored all the reasons and done nothing or been unable to mitigate them.


I picked up fast food for dinner tonight because I didn't have time to cook (excuse).  If I had been honest with myself, I knew I was going to have to work late tonight for the last week and I knew my son had a baseball game.  I could have planned better and made something in advance or set the crock pot on a timer.  I just didn't plan well enough (reason) because it was just too much work.

I didn't meet that deadline because my coworker was not carrying her load and I didn't have time (excuse). If I had been honest with myself, I really didn't know how to do the task delegated to me (reason) and I didn't want to ask for help because I thought I would be judged. I feared that my boss would get angry with me and I would disappoint her, so I blamed it on someone else.


I did not get enough sleep before my long run because my kids asked me to watch a movie with them late last night.  This is resulted in poor performance during my run.  If I  am honest with myself, my kids are the most important thing in my life (reason), and I am ok with this.  If my runs suffer right now, I'm ok with that.  My reason is important and not an excuse.  I recognized this BEFORE I stayed up late and I made a decision to accept the consequences.

I will not meet that deadline because I have had to do many things that are higher priority (reason).  I know you are counting on me but I need more time to complete the task. (asking permission rather than forgiveness)

In examining myself, I can't help but wonder....when I criticize myself, am I falling short because of good reasons or excuses? What stories do I tell myself and the people who are counting on me?  Why is it so hard to state our reasons rather than our excuses?  To ourselves?  To others?


Fear of failure.  Fear of judgment.  Fear of disappointing ourselves and others. Fear of appearing weak and incompetent.

It takes courage to avoid making excuses and taking ownership of our shortcomings.  We need to feel safe in order to do so.  How can we feel safe enough to be honest?


This is my personal revelation of the day.  I need to give myself and others more grace and permission to have reasons rather than excuses.  I need to give those I work with more admit their reasons in order to avoid excuses.

Grace helps us see the reasons behind the excuses.

God, grant me the wisdom to dig deep enough to find my reasons behind my excuses, and give others permission to do the same.


Saturday, 11 April 2020

An Ultrarunner's Thoughts on the Irony of Physical Distancing and Human Behaviour

As an ultra runner, I have a lot of practice at social and physical distancing.  While I often enjoy the company of other runners on the trails and at post-run gatherings, I crave a whole lot of alone time.  Most ultra runners do as well, and if they don't, they quickly become ok with it.  The very nature of our sport conditions us to become very comfortable spending long hours alone on the trails far away from civilization and other humans. Heck, many people find ultra precisely so that they have an excuse to be alone. I am one of those people.

I get up at ungodly hours, am often the first to arrive at the trail head for a run, and jump out of my skin when another human surprises me on the trail and unknowingly interrupts my deep state of flow. Relax mom I've taken self defense.  Even when given the opportunity to run with someone, I will often chose to run alone, content with the company of me, myself and I.  I have spent years seeking out solitary places to run.  Years learning to become self-sufficient for hours on a trail. Years developing the strength to carry food, water, medication, and emergency supplies on my back for all my runs, and years training my legs to carry me far away from other people...before I must come back again.

Ultrarunning has kept my body strong.  It has kept my mind strong, and it has kept my lungs strong.  I have been seeking out solitary places to run in nature several times per week long before COVID-19 caused a world-wide pandemic and public orders requiring physical distancing were issued.

As a health care worker and a single mom during a global pandemic involving a respiratory virus, I take it all very seriously. My top priority is to reduce exposure to others while staying strong enough to fight the virus when I inevitably am exposed to it myself.  I wash my hands for the full 20 seconds, I stay 6 feet away from EVERYONE, and I suspect I've gotten mildly intoxicated from hand sanitizer absorbing through my skin.  I don't have time to be sick.  I need a strong body, I need strong lungs. And right now I need a strong mind more than anything else.  This doesn't happen passively or by accident. It happens intentionally and actively.

I awoke this morning and prepped exactly as usual, turning my car into a self contained aid station (aka no need to interact with anyone).  I packed enough food and water for myself, and stuffed my running vest with TP and extra "leave no trace" baggies (even the outhouses are closed now, but any experienced ultra runner knows what to do).  I told one person where I was going and left the house thinking, "it's a good thing I have a sport that I love that requires no gym, that allows me to be alone, and far away from anyone else.  I don't have to change a thing!"  I usually have to tell someone where I am going because if I disappear or get injured, no one would come upon me for hours if not days or years. On any other weekend morning of any other month in any other year this would be the case. Sadly, not this morning.

Runners rant coming...but this is my personal blog so there is no disclaimer

I know we are all supposed to stay at home.  I know we need to balance that with the mental and physical health of not only ourselves but others.  I know I left my house which in many ways makes me a hypocrite. That said was it wrong of me to get more than mildly irritated when I found my usual utterly vacant trailheads ironically crammed with more people than I've ever seen?  I haven't changed my routine, but everyone else seems to have done so.  They have decided it's time to get active and back to nature.  That's great.  So now I can't?  My rational mind told me that was clearly an irrational thought, but this had nothing to do with COVID and I was angry!  I actually really needed to be alone, only to find that one of the places I could always count on for that was...filled with people!!!

Ok.  Deep diaphragmatic breath.  Change the plan but never the goal...

It's a good thing I have more secret spots where no one else ever goes.  Those spots where there is no cell service and I can run for hours comfortably knowing no one will ever find me, more less come within 2 metres of me.  I managed to find one of those spots today and ran in blissful solitary peace contemplating how physical distancing requirements have created a human osmosis of sorts, drawing people out of the cities and towns and back into nature.  On one hand I think it's awesome that parents are getting their families outside and finding safe places for them to do so.  Fresh air and exercise are powerful medicine that will keep us strong while awaiting a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19.  However, there is still a piece of me that resents the sudden intrusion of the masses into the sanctuary of quiet stillness that I've treasured for decades.  In this time of exponential change, I was hoping I'd
at least still have that.

And so ironically those of us who have a sport that physically distances us are finding it harder to do even that.
"It's the good advice that you just can't take." Alanis Morissette
None of us are immune to the changes in our society and it is what it is.  I guess I'm just going through the grieving process like everyone else.  You can criticize me for leaving my house, but for now I will keep running. I will try my very best to be alone, not because I'm told to but because I need to (or I will go bat shit crazy.)  I may have to get up even earlier and run a little longer into the bush to take the trail less travelled, but I will run for my health, and I will run with gratitude.  Gratitude that I can still run on the trails because I am well aware that what I describe here is the rationale used for closing our parks.  Gratitude that I have strong lungs and that it's spring.  Gratitude that I am a trail runner and don't need a gym, treadmill or paved path for my workout.   Gratitude I live in a province with a very low incidence of COVID-19, a population density of 2 people/square km and a whole lot of open space. Yes, I'm finally grateful to live in Manitoba.

Ultra running has trained me in many ways to cope with this pandemic.  It has given me mental as well as physical endurance.  Ultra has trained me to be ok with being alone, and it has given me serious perspective. Mantras pop in my head every day now with new double meanings, no longer reserved for the running context.

Nothing lasts forever.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Pay now or pay later.
Trust the process.
Deal with the little things now before they become big things.
Don't catastrophize the unexpected.
Change the plan but never the goal.
Just keep going.  (but)
Sometimes it takes more strength to stop than to keep going.
It's not a sprint, it's a marathon.  Pace yourself.

I could write many more blog posts on the duality of meaning hidden in those mantras and the parallelism between managing global pandemics and running ultras, but the ultra runners who make up the vast majority of my audience already know.  Don't you?

Good luck finding places to run alone.  Be well my friends.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Running Free 3:3 My Biggest Fear

It was somewhere between Snow Valley Peak and Spooner Summit on the Tahoe Rim Trail that I broke out of a trance and started waxing philosophical.  Twelve hours into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 I was running with a few women down some flowing single track salted with a few rocks to playfully bounce off and surrounded by fields of yellow wildflowers. It was idyllic. As often happens when in a deep state of flow, my mind goes to distant places and returns with incredible clarity.

As we chatted about the beauty of the trail and the coming challenges of the night ahead, I found myself quoting Marianne Williamson to the lady runner ahead of me.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I continued...”when you have the courage to admit that you have power you have the responsibility to honour it.”  I had always thought my biggest fear was inadequacy. Over the last year I’ve finally realized that fearing inadequacy was actually my safe place. Allowing myself to be powerful was actually much much scarier.

Just as cold is simply the absence of heat, inadequacy is simply the absence of power. You can develop a false sense of power by adding a little heat now then to keep from getting too cold in an imposter syndrome type of way. It’s a fake sense of power controlling your power. It’s much scarier and harder to let go and deal with a raging inferno of fire.

Coming down off Cirque Peak in Alberta, Canada: Totally blissed out and feeling the power of the place, the moment,  the earth.
Have you ever been told you’re too much? I have.

So many people worry about not being enough. Sometimes I worry about that, but it’s rare...and usually only the week for a big race.  I’m constantly brushing the sharp edges of being too much. Sometimes I get cut up pretty badly.

I’ve been told I desire too much, dream too much, train too much, plan too much, work too much, run too much, think too much, give too much, feel too much, love too much, live too much. I’ve been told I need to tone it down or I’ll minimize whoever I’m with and never succeed in relationships or in life.

Sometimes that advice has been wise and I’ve needed to appropriately learn to exercise restraint and decorum, but more often than not I’ve been left feeling smothered, caged in and exhausted from trying to govern the passion and excitement that I feel for the people or the things I love.

Running has been many things for me, but recently it occurred to me that my deep dive into ultra running has largely been a rebellion against all that. A rebellion against being constantly guilted for and made to minimize who I am.

Last year I reached a breaking point and decided that I was done with that shit. I decided to let go of all the things and most importantly the person that made me feel deflated and powerless, a lesser version of me. It took all my remaining strength, but because I was already broken I couldn’t break any more. My transformation is still a work in progress but I’m finally feeling free in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a kid. The world is mine for the taking and I’ll be damned if I don’t shine as brightly as I bloody well want.

This is the truth I want my kids to know...

You are your mother’s child. More importantly you are God’s child. Your awesomeness is your birthright. Always remember who you are.

When you live big, there will be people who will be intimidated by you, threatened by you, jealous of you...and they will try to minimize you in an attempt to elevate themselves. Sometimes they will be the people who claim to love you most.

If anyone tells you you’re too much, wish them well in their mediocrity and let them go before they steel your power.

Hold onto your f*^&ing power.
Own your awesome my child, and the world will be yours.

Bounce HARD my friends.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

When Inspiration Can Turn Into Desperation

We all can name a few people who inspire us - those that push their limits and accomplish great things not just day after day, but year after year.  Whether you’ve been running one year, 10 years or many decades, we all have our running heroes. Those we admire in the running community may be big names - the closest we’ll ever get to them is following them on Strava.  Sometimes those we admire most are people right in our own community, or even our best friends.
With the explosion of running participation worldwide, more and more people are either taking up running for the first time or setting new goals for themselves.  Regular 5K runners are reaching for that 10K, half marathoners are doing their first marathon, and marathoners are going for a BQ or even jumping into the ultra running scene.  This is amazingly awesome and nothing makes me happier than seeing someone set and achieve new goals, especially in running.
However, there is a dark side.  Unfortunately, I am bearing witness to it more and more in my line of work as a physiotherapist who treats primarily runners.  The number one cause of running injuries is training error, particularly increasing mileage too much too soon. The incidence of stress fractures is disturbingly on the rise, and I am finding myself spending more and more time coaching runners on periodization and proper recovery techniques as a way to prevent or treat chronic injuries.  Social media and apps like Strava can provide us with a running community and motivate us to perform, while at the same time can make each run a competition and lead us to compare ourselves to others who may have vastly different running experience or daily family and work demands.
I recently was asked to consult with a male runner in his 40’s whose chief complaint was fatigue.  He had been battling injuries for several months and with the help of one of our therapists was finally running “injury-free.”  At the same time, he admitted to feeling constantly exhausted and stressed.  He was an experienced half marathon runner but this year, inspired by some leaders in his running community and a few close friends, he ran his first marathon, his first ultra, and had 2 more ultra marathons planned for the season. He had a high-stress job and admitted to not sleeping as much as he should.  His training was not producing the gains he wanted, and as he sat before me I could see his eyes fill up as he admitted to dreading his runs now rather than looking forward to them.
My heart went out to this man.  He had obviously been motivated to set some big goals for himself early in the year.  No one sets goals to break themselves down.  We set goals because we need to build ourselves up - to give us a sense of purpose, direction and satisfaction when we accomplish them.  He was trying his best to do what he thought he should with the inspiration of his running community as fuel.  I couldn’t help but think that we had failed him.  This man was obviously deep in overtraining syndrome and possible adrenal fatigue and was still convinced that he needed to do a 50K training run before his upcoming second 50K race.  Overtraining syndrome is serious, can take months if not years to recover from, and doesn’t just affect elite runners.
After a long discussion on everything from his training plan to recovery techniques and diet, I prescribed him at least one week off running, cycling for cross-training, and asked him to seriously reassess his goals for the year.  I didn’t ask him to stop running long term, just to give his body the time it needed to adapt to the incredible stress that he was placing on it.  This was not what he wanted to hear, but it was what he needed to hear.
I can’t help but wonder…can inspiring someone also be inadvertently harming them?  Do we have a responsibility not only to inspire each other but to take care of each other? In a world where we present filtered snapshots of ourselves on social media, do we have a responsibility to ensure that those who are watching us are witnessing our authentic journey?
As an ultra runner, I believe strongly in setting BIG goals and doing the work to achieve them.  Personally, I hope that I inspire people to believe in themselves and to set gigantic goals as well.  However, this also gives me a big responsibility to ensure they understand the process and the patience involved in reaching those goals.  We are all coaches to a certain extent.  As a running community, it is important not only to inspire each other but to take care of each other.  More experienced runners have a responsibility to mentor those following in their footsteps with the wisdom they have gained.  Less experienced runners have a responsibility to reach out to those who may have something to say that they need to know.
Achieving big goals in running is a process, not an event. After the completion of my last 100 mile footrace, I was frequency asked the question, “how long does it take you to train for a 100 miler?”
My answer? “My whole life.”
My challenge to our incredibly awesome Winnipeg running community is this:  Speak up when you need help.  Speak up when you see someone in need of help.  Be inspiring, but be authentic.   Let’s help each other to shine brightly for a long time, not just a short time.
Bounce strong my friends.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Tahoe Rim 100 Race Report 2019 - Share Your Light

Click to enlarge

Start Time: July 20 5:00 am
Finish Time: July 21 1:37pm (32hrs37min)

105/235 overall
14th female, 5th AG
79 DNFs

On July 21, I completed my second 100 miler - the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run!  It was an amazingly epic experience and I got exactly what I went for.  Endless summits and panoramic vistas, the opportunity to explore a new place on our planet, the chance to push my body and my mind to new limits, and best of all a few new friends!

The only thing harder than running 100 miles is writing about it.  This story is not just about me. As I struggled to write about the experience I had at Tahoe, I thought about the Tahoe Rim and the trail and how it frames Lake Tahoe perfectly.  You wouldn’t have Lake Tahoe without the valley that the rim of mountains creates.  Likewise, I wouldn’t have a story to tell without the people that framed my experience and who were integral in my memories of the day.
Races are my reward.  Planning races in beautiful new places is what keeps me going as I train through long Canadian winters and around a busy work and family schedule.  This last year has been challenging to say the least.  I navigated through a divorce, the purchase of a new house, project managing a major renovation in my house, doing a large part of the renovation myself, single parenting 2 boys, health issues, and negotiating a new role for myself at work.  Through it all I ran. In a world where I felt completely out of control most of the time, running was the one thing I could control, my safe space where nothing could touch me. I can handle almost anything in the day as long as I can get my run in.

Why Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run (TRTER)?
It has long been my goal to attend one of the UTMB events.  I entered the draw for CCC this year and on January 10th when I got the notification that I didn’t get in, I started looking for another double qualifier for 2020.  I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of other runners who had also been denied UTMB entry were also doing the same thing at the same time.  Races that were both Western States and UTMB qualifiers were either full or filling up fast. I admit with all I was juggling at that time I had no back up plan at all.  The Sierra Nevadas and area around Lake Tahoe looked absolutely beautiful, so late that night I put my name on the wait list for TRTER and also registered for Castle Peak 100K held 5 weeks later as a back up plan.  Both races are held in the same general area and I knew I’d be happy with either.  

I was 4th on the wait list for TRTER and expected that in the next 6 months at least 4 people would encounter some reason why they couldn’t do the 100 mile race.  Sure enough within a few weeks I was in and Tahoe Rim 100 became the reward I fixed my eyes on through the months that followed.

My training went really well all spring, largely because I had zero time for junk miles and every run had a purpose.  I also had a lot of stress to burn off.  I ran a few 50Ks in May and went to Flagstaff for a week to train the end of June.  Living on the flat Canadian prairies at 730’ above sea level is not the most ideal place to train for a race with 18,000’ of gain at an average altitude of 8500’.  My time in Flagstaff wasn’t long enough to develop lasting physiological adaptations to altitude and heat, but it did allow me the chance to see how hard I could push without feeling woozy or nauseated, and to test some nutrition strategies in those conditions. I replicated race conditions as closely as I could, summiting Mt. Humphreys, descending to the Colorado River and back up on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, and exploring Sedona for a total of 100 miles and 18,000’ feet of gain over 6 days.  As I flew home to start recovering as hard as I had trained, I knew my legs were ready.  I had developed legs of steel and my hamstring injury was now a memory.  The biggest challenges would be heat and altitude.  Both factors were uncontrollable but I was now confident they would be manageable.

My race reports are usually quite technical, filled with stats and details of the course.  This one will be a story.  Every good story has good characters, plot, conflict and a climax.  It’s easy to tell a good ultra tale with plot, lots of conflict and of course a finish line climax.  But the characterization often falls flat, as one tells the story of a long day with a single character. This one will be different.  This one is about the people.

The Fox Brew Pub
I arrived in Carson City on Wed night with lots of time to relax and prepare for the race. Every race has it’s own feel, but TRTER has a very unique vibe.   There was a Meet and Greet at The Fox Brew Pub on Thurs night and I was so glad I went!  The first round and fries were on the RD which may have contributed to the great turn out.  After shaking hands with a few runners, I sat down at a large table to find myself across from Trena (read her race report here) and her pacer from Georgia.  She had a way about her that told me instantly this wasn’t her first time at the dance.  Even her pacer looked hard core, sporting a cast on her wrist!  When I asked Trena what her favourite race was, she replied, “UTMB.”  She seemed rather cautious and respectful of the TRTER course, which gave me perspective.  We would see each other throughout race: at the start line, in the Red House Loop, and at the finish line.  I arrived in Carson City knowing only one name on the registrant list, but within a few hours I had met a few cool people who would become familiar comforting faces out on the course and eventually like old friends. That evening Lisa, my friend and pacer, flew in to Reno and with her arrival it all started to feel real. 


Will, my mascot Bonk, and I
Friday morning we dropped in on Will from San Francisco, the one person I knew on the registrant list.  Will and I had met in 2016 in Manning Park, BC. I had just completed the Fat Dog 70 miler and he had just come off the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.  We met in the laundry room of the Manning Park Lodge.  I took one look at his hollow face and skinny frame and immediately invited him and his hiking buddy to join our post race pizza party. They entertained us for hours with stories from the PCT that fascinated me.  We have kept in touch since and he graciously offered to bring me a cooler, camping chair and anything else I might need (which even included 2 pairs of shoes I had shipped to his house.)  Over coffee I got know to his friend Kim, and we shared some mutual concerns over the altitude and heat.  It would be Will's first 100 and Kim's second. They had done training runs on the course and seemed well prepared. Will is legally blind and such an inspiration.  Check out Will's story here. I was gleaning any course info I could from anyone I talked to.  With the additional help of course preview videos I was developing a clearer mental picture of what the course would be like.

The rest of the day was spent finalizing my drop bags, doing some course recon, and checking in. Then it was pre-race brief, sushi dinner and bed by 8:30pm.

Myself, Kim and Will at the start
Race Day

When my alarm when off at 2:30am I woke feeling great and bounded out of bed, trying unsuccessfully not to wake Lisa as I made coffee, ate oatmeal and covered my body in Body Glide and sunscreen.  She gave me a hug as I boarded the bus at 3:15.  We arrived at the start line at 3:45 with over an hour to wait until the 5:00 am start.  Oh well, better early than late. The extra time meant more time for socializing!  I chatted with Trena and Rusty from Vancouver, one of only 2 other Canadian runners in the 100 mile event.  There were runners from 15 countries represented!

Then I spotted Will and Kim with their crew.  Will introduced me to his friend Mario Fraioli, who had come up from San Francisco to support his runners at the race.  Mario coaches some big names in running, my favourite being Sally Mcrae.  I was floored that he had come all the way up from the bay area to be there at 4:30am to support his runners, and if I’m not mistaken I saw him at several aid stations throughout the race.  This is our running community and why I love it so much.

Andrew and I at the start

I first met Andrew at the Meet and Greet on Thurs night. He is an experienced ultra runner from New Jersey and his running resume consists of races like Cruel Jewel 100, Rocky Raccoon and the Vermont 100.   He sat down beside me and we discussed course conditions, past races, bucket list races, and essentially any and everything to do with…ultra running.  What else?  The next day I ran into him at race check-in and seeing as we were old friends already, we agreed to start the race together.

Before I knew it, the countdown was on, and we were off.  Andrew and I jogged together into the darkness, chatting easily as we filed into the single track kongo line that starts off all trail races.  By 5:25 the birds started chirping and a few minutes later the first hints of pink started to appear outlining the mountains to our right.  I noted this time because the timing of the dawn on day two is fairly significant to me mentally…little did I know how significant it would be the next morning! I am not usually talkative during ultras, especially in the first 12-16 hours.  For some reason I was Chatty Cathy that morning and before long Andrew claimed he needed a pit stop and that he would catch up with me later.  Although often valid, this is also the universal sign that a runner doesn’t want to hang with you anymore, and I smiled to myself, anything but offended.  I silently wished him well on his race and continued on.  I would not see Andrew again until 32 hours later when he crossed the finish line, grabbed his buckle, scarfed down a taco, jumped in the lake to clean up, and drove straight to the airport to catch a red eye home.  I pitied the person sitting next to him on the flight, but really…how awesome is that?

The Course

My goal was to finished around the 30 hour mark.  I had done Zion in 32, and I knew my fitness level and training was better this time around.  This course would also be hotter and higher, but I hoped the wisdom I had gained in the last few years would help me mitigate those factors. I started off trying to follow my rule of “no heavy breathing, no burning legs.”  It was hard not to breathe heavily as we climbed up and up, passing the Hobart aid station (AS) and reaching 8500’ before descending again.  The course only drops below 8000’ three times, and I knew I would need to be very cautious on the first loop.  I had chosen to leave my poles in my Diamond drop bag at the 30 mile mark on the advice of a runner at Thurs nights’ meet and greet and hoped that was a wise decision.

The 100 mile course consists of 2 loops of the 50 mile course.  I normally hate looped courses and avoid them whenever I can.  My brain prefers a point in the distance to run to, and nothing motivates me more than curiosity and the desire to see something new around the next corner or over the next hill. However, the benefit of two 50 mile loops meant that I would get to see the whole course in the daylight and wouldn’t miss anything throughout the night.  If I paid attention, I would also have the benefit of knowing how to better pace myself on the second loop.  So I soaked up as much of my surroundings as I could as we ran up and down mountains, along buffed out single track and through technical boulder fields.  When we rounded the corner between Hobart and Tunnel Creek to see this view, I gasped as I reared to a stop to take it all in.  This is what I had come for and we got to see these views over and over again.

There are two notable things about this course became readily apparent to me as I ran.  You can see it in the profile, but you can feel it even more as you run.

The trail is never flat.  Seriously.  It’s hard to believe that over 100 miles I can honestly say that my feet were either headed up or down, which meant shifting gears from power hiking to cruising over and over.

Hobart to Tunnel Creek
The climbs are distributed such that the mileage going up is much more than the mileage going down.  Meaning that you are climbing a lesser grade for longer, and then bombing down steeper grades for shorter distances and of course less time.  Other than Diamond Peak, the climbs looked like someone had taken the elevation profile and pushed the swells to the right.  My strength is downhill running, and I do best on a profile that is the opposite: short steep climbs with long runnable down hill sections.  There certainly were these type of downhill sections particularly in the last 7 miles of each loop off Snow Valley Peak, but this race was definitely a climbers game and I vowed to keep my poles in my hands for the remainder of the race after I picked them up at Diamond.

After reaching Tunnel Creek (TC), we headed into the Red House Loop.  After all that climbing, holy cow did we go down fast!  It was all I could do not to let myself just fly, but I reminded myself that I was only 12 miles in and tried to hold back as a huge dumb ass grin plastered itself on my face.  At this point the front runners were passing us coming back up out of the valley looking incredibly fit and strong.  I passed Trena and Rusty and Kim, and just when the trail was starting to level out I became less vigilant, and BAM!  I caught my toe and went sailing through the air. I had just enough time to consciously hold back from trying to save myself as I knew I would tear my hamstring again if I did. So I let myself dive into the ground hands first like I was diving into water.  Thank goodness there was no tree there and the ground was soft sand.  Kim was right behind me and asked if I was ok.  My leg was pretty scrapped up but it was just blood.  Amazingly my hands were good and nothing hurt.

Deep breath.  Ok Kim.  Relax. You were lucky.  Now dial it back even more and be smart.  You are in a 100 mile race, not a 50K.

As I continued to the bottom of the Red House Loop (one of the few places we dropped below 8000’), I saw some puddles.  We had been warned that our feet would definitely get wet here from the extreme snow melt they had had this spring, but the course must of have dried out in the last few days and it was not hard to pick my way around the puddles and across some rocks.  I desperately did not want wet feet that early in the race and even though I had a change of shoes and socks in my TC drop bag, I preferred not to need them and thankfully was able to keep my feet nice and dry.

Coming up to the Red House AS, I could hear music and saw a woman dressed in the best sequinned pink costume dancing with a tambourine and smiling as she welcomed runners to their party.  I think she was burning more calories than I was!  No need to stop though and I pressed on back up to Tunnel Creek.  At this point I was starting to warm up and I notice that upon leaving Tunnel Creek I had guzzled almost 400mL of water in 5 min.  My hands were puffing up and I was terrified of getting hyponatremia again (see Zion 100 race report for the full horror story).  I didn’t let myself drink again until the hour was up and cautiously monitored my salt and water intake for the next several hours but I didn’t puff up again.

The section between Tunnel Creek and Bull Wheel rapidly became one of my favourites.  We passed through it 4 times, and I got to know each turn and rock. There were great views, very interesting boulders, fluorescent green moss on the trees, beautiful flowering shrubs, all on a modest undulating grade.  At this point in the race I was approximately 45 minutes ahead of 30 hour pace and I was feel fantastic.  Leaving Bull Wheel I knew I had approximately 4 miles more up and then 4.5 miles of down, which turned out to be a fantastically runnable downhill section.  I cruised into the Diamond Peak AS (30M) at noon an hour ahead of schedule feeling hot but awesome.  Lisa was all set up and ready for me when I got there and was I glad to see her!  I had predicted that the only thing I would need was ice and watermelon, and that was indeed all I wanted. I asked where the scale was so I could weigh myself to make sure I wasn’t gaining weight, but it was inside the ski lodge and I couldn’t be bothered going in, deciding to gamble on my ability to manage my osmolarity.  Lisa filled my bladder with ice, which had remained empty to this point.  We filled my water bottles with ice and water, my Icefil sleeves with ice and soaked them in water, and I got the first of what would become many dumps of ice into my bra.  As I left the AS to begin the first of 2 climbs of Diamond Peak, a volunteer asked if I wanted ice water sponged into my head.  “Hell ya,” I said as I stood there soaking in the blissfully cool water as it trickled down my head and neck.

Diamond Peak Climb
I run hot.  I am Canadian after all, and can run comfortably in a t-shirt and shorts in weather as cold as -12C.  Wim Hof and I are kindred spirits.  In Winnipeg we don't get a lot of time to acclimate to heat before the temperature swings from -35 to +35C. The limiting factor for any runner pushing the upper limits of their own performance will be core temp.  They had predicted below seasonal temps in the alpine for this race, with highs in the mid-upper 70s.  It sure seemed hotter to me than that, but what did I know…I am a Canadian with high levels of brown fat and it was what it was.

Diamond Peak

The climb up Diamond Peak is…insane.  The only sport that I consider myself an expert at besides running is downhill skiing.  That climb was created by God for people to go DOWN.  Not up.  It was a 2 mile long slog up the ski runs under the lifts.  The first mile was “runnable” for the elite runners.  But the second mile sucked the life completely out of every cell in my body.  My ice was already all melted and in the hottest part of the day people were pucking all around me.  There was the occasional tree offering shade along the sandy climb, and my mission became to just make it to the next tree.  The grade was steep and the sand offered no relief to one’s calves.  My achilles started to heat up and I remembered to adopt the rest step technique in an attempt to save my calves from blowing up so early.  It took me and everyone I talked to an hour to do that 2 mile climb.  I was so glad I had my poles in my hands.  Topping out at Bull Wheel, I filled up on water again and jogged back towards Tunnel Creek. Yikes. I tried not to think about that fact at mile 80 I was going have to do it all over again.
On the way to Snow Valley Peak

Snow Valley Peak

I quickly reached Tunnel Creek and then Hobart again.  Leaving Hobart, I headed up to towards the summit of the highest part of the course - Snow Valley Peak.  The course splits tell you that it is 3 miles to the summit.  Let me tell you that it’s 4 miles, and at that altitude in the afternoon every inch counts.  If you are doing this race in 2020 and beyond, be prepared for 4 miles. This part of the course really was beautiful but I was overheated and starting to get wobbly.  By the time I had passed what a seemed like hundreds of pink flamingo signs tell me I was almost there, I crested a ridge to see the aid station nestled in a nice little dip.  As I approached on legs that didn’t feel like they were connected to my body, I asked how high up we were (I was totally disoriented and couldn’t even pull out my course profile).  I was told we were at 8900’+ and I heaved a sign of relief knowing that I wasn’t bonking and it simply was the altitude.  I asked for another dump of ice into my bra and the guy who obliged commented that I didn’t even flinch.  I couldn’t muster a comment.  During the course of the race I bared a LOT of cleavage to the volunteers willing to dump ice into my bra.  I was too hot and too hypoxic to care.  
Coming off Snow Valley Peak I knew I had 7 miles back to Spooner Lake and the half way point and it was all downhill.  I was feeling pretty depleted and as I headed down towards the alpine line I asked God for help.  God and I are pretty tight, and an instant later a thought popped into my head.  The sooner you get down the sooner you’ll feel better.  Just run.  So I did.  I cruised down that whole 7 mile stretch and as I got lower and lower I felt better and better.  I am a downhill specialist and this was what I was made for.  I cruised passed huge cedar and fir trees, past snow patches where I stopped to shove dirty snow into my arm sleeves and bra, and through more boulder fields.  As I dropped lower the sun dipped lower in the sky as well, and I found myself in the shade more often than not.  The dirt under my feet changed from red to ash to brown.  As it cooled off, I found myself solidly in that elusive flow state, where time stands still and everything seems effortless.  Endorphins were flowing strongly and nothing hurt.  I was on a high and as I breathed in the deeply fragrant smell of the conifer forest, I praised God for creating this magnificent place I was running.  For creating the planet.  For creating me.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude and as it spilled out of me, I found myself praying the prayer that I pray nearly every morning before I start work as a physiotherapist.  Lord, please send me the people that I need to connect with today. Please send me someone I can help.

As I descended towards Spooner Lake, my euphoria quickly vanished.  My favourite ultra mantra is nothing lasts forever.  The bad moments don’t last and for that matter neither do the good ones.  As I approached the Stonehenge Aid Station which would mark the completion of the 50 mile loop, I suddenly felt exhausted.  This was of course all mental.  My mind was sensing a completion, and the opportunity for a bail-out. I came into that AS ready for a reset.  As Lisa greeted me, I sat down and emphatically stated that I needed to recharge.  I was looking forward to my usual evening sushi, but it just didn’t seem appetizing. I tried to force food into my stomach but it just didn’t seem to want to go in.  I sat in that chair rather content not to be moving…until I started shivering.  It wasn’t cold at all, but my body was tell me it needed to keep moving.  Ok.  I plugged my watch into my portable power charger because the battery was getting low.  My phone was as well (although I don’t know why seeing as it was on airplane mode), but I had forgotten to ask Lisa to bring my phone charging cord.  I was heading into a long night with limited opportunities to listen to music. Oh well.

As I forced myself to rise out of my chair, Lisa strapped her insanely bright waist headlamp around my waist and wished me farewell.  I would next see her at the base of Diamond Peak the next morning when she would join me to pace me the last 20 miles.


Starting that second loop was hard. They say you run the first 50 miles with your legs and the last 50 with your mind.  So true.  Just before I checked out of Stonehenge, I saw heard this guy saying, “so there are 21 hours left.” I found myself telling him, “Hell no, we are on 30 hour pace. There are 16 hours left.”  And that guy was Liam.  I barely gave him a glance and moved on up the trial.

Very shortly after I left Stonehenge, I found myself locking in beside Chris, a Billy Yang look-a-like from Sonoma.  Before long Liam caught up to us and admitted to making the rookie mistake of leaving his headlamp in his Tunnel Creek drop bag, 12 miles away. It was just after 7pm and it would be well after dark before we reached TC.  He asked if he could hang with us using our lights until we got there.  I immediately said yes, of course!   Wow Lord - you sent him fast!  

As we climbed, I could see that Liam was a strong climber.  Another runner joined our group and I was having a hard time keeping up.  I needed a genuine pit stop (for real), so I offered Liam the use of my back up headlamp to allow him the freedom to run his own pace, asking him to leave it in my drop bag at Tunnel Creek if he beat me there.  He tells this story in his race report, but contrary to his impression that this was the headlamp I had won in the pre-race draw, this was my Petzl back up headlamp  and it apparently did not have very good batteries. I had no excuses for such a pathetic headlamp. It was horribly dim and as I caught up to him, I tried to stay with him to offer him some light.  I guess I was feeling talkative again, and we struck up a conversation that covered everything from Scott Jurek and Dusty Milller, to the fact that he was from Kalamazoo, MI, only an hour from where I went to grad school.  He tried to talk hockey with me, but I don’t have cable and don’t watch sports so that didn’t go anywhere.  I made book recommendations and we talked about our why.  Throughout the night we leap frogged.  I was getting very nauseated which was odd for nighttime and when I would stop periodically on the trail to dry heave Liam would ask if I was ok.  “Nothing lasts forever,” I would reply.  Although I had originally helped him, my new trail buddy was helping keep my mind off my discomfort.  That is, until he wasn’t.

Dr. Pasternak

Getting my meds!
I had signed up to be in Dr. Pasternak’s study on the effectiveness of anti-nausea medication on ultra runners at altitude. After experiencing significant nausea at Zion a few years ago and knowing this race ran higher, I figured I’d be a good candidate for the study.  I had taken one of the meds at 5:30 and it had seemed to work.  But by 10:30 pm my stomach was feeling pretty rotten so I took another one. That one did not seem to work. I reached Tunnel Creek for the 4th time about 11:30pm and had dry heaved continually for the last hour.  After sitting down beside Liam, taking my headlamp back, and dealing with some blisters, I entered the med tent to find Dr. Pasternak himself was there.  I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was taking the placebo or the real thing, but the meds were not working and asked if he could help.  (NOTE: I’m asking for help here.  A big thing for me).  He asked me what my research number was and somehow in the middle of the night almost 17 hours into the race I clearly told him 19-15.  He didn’t believe me, so he checked the back of my race bib and indeed, I was 19-15.  “You are getting the real drug,” he said, “and it’s obviously not working although you’re mind’s pretty clear.”  He blamed it on the method of absorption in a sour stomach, and gave me something else that would work better.  I don’t remember what, I only remember that I kept going.

I was on my own headed down to Red House, but caught up to Liam at the aid station.  As we climbed up out of the Red House Loop, I was not in a good place: still moving well, but frequently stopping to wretch or simply to breathe deeply in an attempt not to.  He kept asking me if I was ok.  I kept replying that of course I was.  It was touching that he was so genuinely concerned, however this was a 100 miler.  You have to go into these races absolutely believing you can do the impossible, with irrational confidence, because rational assessments often lead to rational surrenders (Jurek).  Every time he asked me if I was ok, it highlighted the fact that I was not.  I felt myself moving faster, and adopted the most efficient power hiking mode I could up that climb back into Tunnel Creek. I would NOT be not ok.

Liam and I had been travelling together off and on throughout the night with only the glow of our headlamps illuminating the path in front of us to look at.  I could tell you exactly what his voice sounded like, what the back of his shirt looked like, and I could pick his gait pattern out in a crowd of 200 people, but I could not tell you what he looked like at all.  I had kept everything other than the path in front of me and where I placed each step in the periphery of my vision and my mind.  So when Liam placed himself squarely in front of me as I was trying to choke down a rice ball,  I had no choice but to look up and found my resistant gaze locking into clear blue eyes that sliced right through me.  When he ask, “are you ok?” again, I nearly cracked.  That is the closest I came to breaking in the whole race. In that moment I felt so weak, which pissed me off.  There was no way that this man and this discomfort were going to break me.  In that instant  I knew I had to drop him.


I set off for Bull Wheel with 31.5 miles left to go.  The rice ball had settled well in my stomach and the calories it delivered hit my system like pure sugar.  Before I knew it I could see the lights of the small water-only aid station and arrived to find Kim and her pacer. It was great to see another familiar face in the middle of the night on the side of a mountain.  We compared notes and I ended up trading her some GI medication for some Tums.  We wished each other well as we set off for the next 8 mile section that would take us up again and then down into Diamond Peak. For the next 4 miles I could see Kim and her pacer’s lights ahead of me as we slugged it out along switchbacks in the deadest part of the night.  We were each in our own little pain cave during those hours and often could only pass each other a knowing glance when we leap frogged - that look that says, “I know every single thing you are thinking and feeling because I’m feeling it to.”  

About 3:30am my waist lamp went out.  I thought that it had simply disconnected from the power supply and jiggled the cord.  It turned back on.  I had come upon Kim and her pacer again and he asked me if I needed batteries.  No, I’m ok I said.  During the next few minutes, the waist lamp that had been a beacon of light illuminating everything around me kept going out. Before long I determined that it was indeed dead, and I pulled out my back up headlamp, the one I had loaned Liam earlier that night. As I turned it on, I realized I had made not one, not two, but three rookie mistakes.  Rule number one: never try something new in a race. As bright as Lisa’s waist lamp was and as happy as I was to borrow it, I had never used it before.  I had no idea what kind of battery life it had, and Lisa had never used it all night to give me warning.  Rule number two: always make sure your headlamps have new batteries.  I had my back up lamp, but as soon as I turned it on, I could see why Liam was struggling with it.  The light was much weaker than it should be after only a few hours of use, and I knew it wouldn’t last long.  Rule number three: always carry spare batteries.  I had loads of spare batteries in my drop bags, however I somehow had neglected to grab them at all the points I could have. This left me with a headlamp that barely illuminated my feet if I held it in my hand.  As I stumbled along in the near darkness, I prayed I wouldn’t trip on a rock way up there on the mountain.  I knew it would get light in 2 hours, but that was a long time away.  Kim was far ahead of me now and there was no way I could catch her while running nearly blind. I was kicking myself for not accepting those batteries when I could have.

Liam - where are you now?  Now I’m the one needing your light.  

But I had been an idiot, purposely distanced myself from him and he was nowhere to be seen. What the heck was wrong with me?  Little did I know that only a few miles back, at almost this exact same time, he was also alone in the darkness of the night hallucinating and thinking he was lost.  We were both having somewhat desperate experiences that could have simply been avoided if we had just stuck together.

Hmmm.  More on that later.

Just as I was starting to panic, thinking I would have to sit there on the side of the trail just waiting for someone to come by (which sounds reasonable to a non-ultra runner but irrational to someone who was solidly in keep f’ing going mode), I remembered my cell phone.  I pulled it out to see that there was 20% battery left. Thank goodness I had spent the night talking to Liam rather than listening to music.  Thanks God, you're always one step ahead of me.  I hoped that 20% was enough to give me light to last until the dawn.  I rigged the phone up on the front of my pack and amazingly it gave off enough light to allow me to run down the mountain and eventually catch up with Kim for a stretch.  Although we finished this leg together, she would make a quicker turn around and finish her first 100 roughly 30 min ahead of me.  She can be very proud of her run!
6:00 am - 20 miles left

As the sky started to turn pink I knew I had made it.  The worst was over.  In a few miles I would reach Diamond and pick up my pacer and we’d only have 20 miles left to go!


Lisa is a bubbly yet determined wife, mother and regional sales rep for a medical equipment company.  I met Lisa 4 years ago, shortly after moving to Manitoba from the west coast of BC while on my first “real winter” run.  She had recently transitioned from running road marathons to trail ultras, but I could immediately see that we had a lot in common.  When she asked me to coach her, I knew she’d be a good fit with my philosophy and I can proudly say that she has become an extremely solid, no-nonsense, just-do-the-work ultra runner whom I knew I could count on.  We have shared a LOT of training miles together over the years, and she knew what she was getting into when she agreed to come with me to Tahoe…which means I was very fortunate she said yes!

Lisa and I
When I walked into the lodge, she was ready to GO!  She had been crewing and supporting me since my 2:30am wake-up call the day before, sleeping in the car, and she still seemed to be full of energy.  As I plugged my phone into a portable charger, she got me a cup of hot coffee.  After a quick visit to a real bathroom for the first time in 18 hours, we set off to climb Diamond Peak.  Anyone who knows Lisa knows she can talk.  But before she started to tell me all about her day and catch me up in what was happening in the world, I managed to warn her that the climb coming up was unlike any climb she’d ever done before.  I had hoped in the cooler morning air it would seem easier.  Who was I kidding?  After 80 miles, I stopped, leaned on my poles, and desperately did not want to do that climb again.  I knew what was coming and this was precisely what was wrong with a looped course.  But Lisa chatted the whole way up to distract me while I managed a grunt every so often to acknowledge that I was still alive.  Trust me, we were moving so slowly that one could seriously question that fact.

Once at the top we turned around to appreciate the view.  I was thankful that she would get to see the most beautiful parts of the course in the 20 miles she would share with me.  At Bull Wheel she took over like an army captain, shoving Tums into my mouth and refilling my water bottles.  I had asked her to make sure I ate, and man was she on top of that!  All night I had run in a tank top and didn’t feel cold at all. As we headed back along the fall line to Tunnel Creek for the last time, I was already heating up and it was only 7am!  Within another hour it was apparent that day two was going to be much warmer than day one and I was in for a struggle.  The theme became rice and ice...and everything nice.

The rest of the morning was a study in physiological management.  Heat and altitude were still my enemies and I struggled to keep enough calories in my system to sustain forward motion. I had developed the classic bloated ultragut from all the motion and simple carbs. Sure they were tired,  but my legs were never the limiting factor.  My knees were fine, my muscles were fine.  I had blisters, but that was just skin deep.  It was so frustrating to me that whenever I tried to pick up the pace I would get nauseated or dizzy or both and I would have to pull back.  I had been using breathing techniques for most of the race to settle my sympathetic nervous system.  This involved 10 deep diaphragmatic inhalations through my nose and followed by quick forced exhalations through my mouth.  This was essentially forced hyperventilation and it was enough to douse my brain with oxygen and down regulate my autonomic nervous system (thanks Wim Hof and Brian MacKenzie).  I’m sure several runners must have heard me panting and puffing like a woman in childbirth and wondered what the hell I was doing.  I didn’t care.  It gave me a brief reprieve from feeling like shit.

Lisa never once asked me if I was ok -
she just took pictures lol!
As it got hotter, I was really starting to suffer.  I filled my bra and arm sleeves with ice at every aid station and snow at every snow patch, all the while trying to focus on the natural beauty around me.  As we descended off Snow Valley Peak through beautiful old growth forests, I really started hallucinating.  I had been seeing things since the middle of the night.  The regular stuff like people sitting on logs and animals in the trees.  But this was a whole other level for me.  I didn’t tell Lisa most of what I saw.  As we were nearing the last aid station a mere 1.5 miles from the finish line, I was very glad we were almost done because I knew I was getting dangerously hot.  Every time I tried to pick up the pace it was like a switch inside just shut me down.  It wasn’t burning or fatigue in my legs, it wasn’t shortness of breath, it wasn’t nausea.  It was the animalistic instinct I might die.  Now, this may sound melodramatic, but I know Tim Noakes’ central governor theory isn’t a theory.  It’s truth.  My brain was at it’s limit and it was shutting my body down before I pushed too far, and I could feel it.  It was kinda scary.

This is when I starting tell Lisa, “there are the signs - we’re almost there!  See the arrows?”  I had her so convinced that she commented that my eyesight was better than hers.  We passed the spot where I had spotted a yellow sign with an arrow, a green one with park information on it that I could actually read, and a rustic metal sign in the shape of a mountain bike.  And then they were not there.  That is the most vivid hallucination I have had yet.  I was so baffled that I just stood there staring at the trees wondering where the signs had gone!

At Spooner Summit Aid, the volunteers encouraged me to run on through because I was so close!  I stopped because I absolutely knew I had to pack my body in ice in order to make that last 1.5 miles.  As soon as I did I could magically run again and I ran solidly into the finish line in 32 hours and 37 minutes.  This one took 2 hours longer than I had hoped, but I am ok with that. 

Liam came through only 23 minutes later and I greeted him and his crew as he celebrated earning his first buckle.  You did awesome my friend!

Thank-you Lisa for sharing the day with me.  And taking pictures.  And taking care of my blisters!  You are an awesome person and friend and I appreciate everything you did for me more than you know!

Post Race Thoughts

It’s starting to sound cliche, but yes, running a 100 miles like living life in a day.  The experiences you have are so intense, the connections with people you make are so pure, and the things you learn are so profound that they can take a long time to process.  Every race teaches you something if you take the time to look inside.  Reflecting back now, what did I learn?  The people are what I remember most about this race.  As much time as I like and need to spend alone, people are important to me.  The parallelism of how I related to them in the race and how I relate to people in real life is disturbingly obvious, and not always healthy.  Some things are really hard to change.  I learned I still have a lot of work to do in that department.

People come in and out of your life, some for a long time, some for a short time.  Embrace them.  Get to know them.  Appreciate them.  You never know when they might appear again, or the impact they may leave on you - or you on them.

Share your light.