17 years of Endurance Racing & I'm Still Going!
It has been a couple of years since I have completed a race report, not to say I haven’t started the process, I probably have 30 or more unfinished articles/reports, hopefully the completion of this report renews my confidence and motivation to share my stories more frequently.
For the past couple of years I have found extreme joy being part of the process of building our local trail running community, crewing, pacing, volunteering, focusing on our great clients, managing the MPF/RNR Trail Running Team and taking care of my very ill father who was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer.
I have managed to get in enough training to finish and enjoy a couple of adventures, but not to compete at the level I once did. At this point of my life my goal is about being present within the adventure and journey rather than racing to get to a finish line.
I'll start with a quick synapse of my lure to the mountainous races. I love the feeling of being in complete wilderness, it gives me a much needed reality check. The beauty, the silence and the ability to journey without seeing the glare of city lights is what it’s about. I get lost in awe of having the ability to travel up and over huge mountain ranges, through magnificent forests, crossing rivers, and so on. Most of the time I really can’t believe how lucky I am. To me, this is living!
Manitou's Revenge 54 Mile Ultra
Manitou's Revenge a training run for UTMA? This year I used Manitou as a training run to test shoes and gear for Ultra Trail du Mont Albert 165k. I feel very silly even saying the above, ridiculous really, Manitou as training run, haha.
The timing of the Manitou’s Revenge 54 Mile Ultramarathon would have been perfect, if it were 3 weeks from UTMA, not 2 weeks, but I couldn't miss sharing the trails with my friends on what I consider the most brutally entertaining 54 miles out there.
I can’t believe this year marked the 5th running of Manitou and our 5th year sponsoring 2 aid stations which means purchasing food, supplies, etc. and finding folks who want to get up very early in the morning to lug supplies up the side of a mountain. Big thanks to all volunteers!
After picking up my number and catching up with my extended family, I watched Ben remove metal dobs from his Orocs and repeatedly saying it’s extremely slippery out there, I looked down and thought maybe I should wear these huge hiking boots tomorrow :). As tradition, a couple of us dined at Brios/the Cantina, a place where you can get Mexican/American Grill fare and lucky for us an appetizer special Lamb poutine. I was reluctant at first but boy it was delicious. After dinner we headed back to Woodland Valley Campground, Julian set up his hammock on what seemed to be in a very sketchy setting. Ben filled his bottles with coke and we joked about how much shit I was carrying when I busted out my mosquito net and had a good laugh.
Into our cozy tent. I lay awake most nights before this race not due to the fact that every time Joe rolls over I feel like I’m going to hit the ceiling of the tent (car camping = big air mattress), but because I worry about our volunteers. I hope they make it to Dutcher's Notch on time (a backcountry aid station at mile 10). I hope everyone remembers to make sure the Coke is flat :), did I buy enough? I hope the gate is open at North South Lake, etc. Lol. This is why I give so much credit to race directors, I would lose my mind.
My goal for Manitou was to keep it in check, I pretty much ran / hiked as conservatively as possible, I wanted to cross the finish line with enough energy to be able to turn around and do it again. I took the time to test out my gear for UTMA, catch up with Julian & friends. This was our 3rd Manitou running together and we vowed to meet up every year.
I really did not want to suffer much, but of course this is one of the hardest 50 milers in the country so there was suffering, especially when the lights went out and the chafing began. The humidity of the day and traveling through rocky terrain with the ensuing fog made the visibility very poor and slow. Oops, I almost got off track onto Canada & the UTMA 100.
Ultra TRAIL Du MONT Albert 165k
- Gasespie National Preserve,Quebec Canada
- 100 miles
- 28,000 feet of climbing
- Mandatory gear: 1.5 liters of water, nutrition, waterproof coat, hat/gloves, emergency blanket, poles or crampons, 2 headlamps/spare batteries, pants, water filter, etc.
How would I describe the course of the Ultra Trail du Mont Albert? I'd say it’s the Devil’s Path in the Catskills, The White Mountains and the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks in mud season, i'm not kidding! Non stop rocks, unbelievable mud for miles, alpine beauty and climbing for what seemed like forever, (this is the BEAST COAST in all of its glory). The race traverses The Gaspesie National Preserve, home to the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and the only wild Caribou herd east of the Mississippi.
How did we find out about this wonderful place? Earlier in the year team member Ryan Welts shared the UTMA race link with us, asking if anyone was interested, not many responded. I looked at the site which was very confusing, it being in french and all, but it looked cool. I shelved it until the Breakneck Point Trail Runs when Adam Wilcox caught Joe's attention as he spoke of the event in high regard. Adam won the 100k last year and loved the area. It was game on! I began to reach out to anyone who would listen about joining me, I had a couple of tentatives, but the only person to commit was Karl Loops. Unfortunately we were late to the punch as the race sold out. I reached out to the RD to plead for spots, after a bit of back & forth, she kindly opened registration for Karl and I, yay!
I was confused about the logistics of the course even after I contacted the RD numerous times with questions. I think it was mainly do to the language barrier and it was the inaugural year of the 165k distance.. Adam Wilcox came to our rescue by offering his aid station chart and course knowledge, thank you. As I started to piece things together the course seemed very similar to the Fat Dog 120, lots of climbing and with the average of 12 to 15 miles in between aid stations.
The drop bag situation always forms a bit of stress when trying to figure out where you are going to be along the course over 48 hours, yes you have two days to finish. One year at the Fat Dog 120 this almost ended my day, because when I got to a drop bag I needed cold weather clothes even during the day due to passing storms and all I had was summer running clothes. My emergency blanket came in real handy. Many races have a drop bag size limit or else it would be easy to pack a drop bag with a bit of everything. This is where having crew is very helpful.
Road Trip: After a 12 hour road trip, Sam (our aussie dog) made it across the border, yay! This is his first international vacation. We finally arrived at one of the most beautiful places I've seen in awhile, but to be fair I'm a sucker for mountains that meet ocean or in this case the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We met up with Karl who was attempting his very first 100 mile race, checked into our shabby, but ocean front accomodations, you can’t beat that.
Race Day: With my mind still suffering from post traumatic stress/hangover from partying with Manitou 2 weeks ago...am I ready to complete the hardest 100 mile race I have attempted to date, without a crew or a pacer. Oh and I got my special gift from a higher power, my period came that morning, sound the orchestra, perfect timing (not perfect, actually it’s a little early).
Mentally due to my issues I wasn't as confident as normal even at the starting line, I'm about to attempt one of hardest ultra's at 60% of the person that I usually am, I’m heavy flow type of gal. The thoughts of cleanliness, maintaining the flow and the immediate weakness I felt, wore on me to the point when I passed the first water stop at 6.8 miles, I almost stopped and this is the honest truth.
Karl and I ran together for the first couple of miles as pretty much the entire race was in front of us, we wondered what race they were running? The relay teams were starting at the same time, maybe that was it. We didn't care, this is 102 mile foot race with 28,000 feet of climbing, if everyone is fit enough to maintain that pace, all the best. Karl soon left me, I wished him well.
After a couple of miles of dirt road we began to climb up part of Mount Nicol-Albert, the terrain was very similar to sections of the Catskills, I found myself using my hands to pull myself up. This was an out and back section, soon we were back to the start. I grabbed some very ill tasting water, said goodbye to Joe & Sam, hopefully I wouldn’t see them again until the finish. Days prior to the race, we found out dogs were not allowed on the course due to Sepaq park regulations, we were pretty bummed that he wouldn’t be able to capture the event.
I started my journey with only moose, bear, caribou and others to keep me company. I think this is the only race thus far that I used my poles the entire time. I looked down at my poles and said ready or not let’s go!
Around mile 13 or so I met a French Canadian by the name of Michel, he was having extreme diarrhea from the first water station, great, I said to myself, now I'm going to have diarrhea to go along with my issues. We shared some pleasantries, then I went on my way until the first rushing stream, it's time to bust out the filter. This was the earliest I've filtered in a race, but at this point I felt more confident with my filter than the aid station water.
I kept pushing forward slowly, but with some force. I didn't have too much time to study the course, I assumed with 28,000 feet of climbing, when you’re climbing it’s for a very long time, like over 2 hours or more per climb. I settled in looking behind me and in front of me for signs of humans or animals. At this point I realized I was moving through my nutrition pretty quickly. I started up another steep pitch, thirsty as I only filtered 20 ounces at the last stream. I finally caught up to some other runners, we were all in the same boat, out of water.
Communication is bit different here since everyone speaks french and a bit of english but mostly french. I was hesitant to filter from this slightly moving stream, one of the guys noticed and offered iodine tabs, I said thank you or merci bouco. I set my timer for 20 mins, this is how long it takes for the iodine to work. Finally I was atop a beautiful mountain, I was thankful that I chose to carry my phone/camera (HUGE IPHONE 6S PLUS:), why not? I seem to be carrying everything but the kitchen sink.
I looked down at my watch to read the time of 3:00pm, the 12:00 o'clock elite start should be passing me at this point and sure enough as I was heading down a talus field, Francious came flying by, “hey isn't this beautiful he exclaimed”, extremely proud of his home country then shortly after Adam Wilcox came through saying boy Francious is really moving, I said run your own race Adam, it’s too early to be worrying about him. He asked if I was ok? Lol, since I'm moving slow and taking the time to take photos :).
I kept pressing forward feeling awful, menstrual cramps and negative thoughts were beginning to take over. I know what it takes and where you have to go sometimes to get it done, I think after all of these years I felt my well of courage and grit was nearing empty.
I had a bit of cell service at the very tops of mountains, I sent Joe messages saying, it’s not going well. He came back with you can do this, you are one hell of woman, the words I needed to hear, but they couldn't cure my lethargy. I need an aid station, as I'm almost out of nutrition. After a couple of false summits, we finally get to Logan aid station or what I thought was an aid station. I got to the bottom of a hill where I saw water containers that were apparently filled from a questionable water source. I started to fill my bladder right away, I didn’t care at this point, until a guy told me aid was up the hill, I said great. I got to the aid station to find a couple of runners already lying down suffering, a sleeve of crackers, a small ziplock of small mini muffins and a container of gatorade. Oh, I see they weren't kidding that this is a somewhat self supported mountain race, where we will travel over 15 miles at points up and down mountains before we would arrive at an aid station with real food. I took another mandatory gear item out of my pack, a cup, (this is a cup-less event), I poured gatorade powder in it, repeatedly refilling and drinking, did the same with my bladder. I had to go another 13 mountain miles to get to the first aid station with a drop bag.
Tip: always carry an empty ziplock just in case you want to take some goodies for the road.
During this section is where I met Mike, he was wearing a Manitou Revenge shirt, Wait, WHAT!!?? Is that the blue edition I’m seeing? Woot, woot, it sure was. Charlie your race is loved by all, he raved about how great the Manitou aid stations were and how hard the course is. He wanted to do it this year for the black shirt, but thought it was too close to this 100 mile endeavor, it’s such a small world. As we began talking, he told me he was friends with Michel who had been sick earlier, I spoke of my issues and he was funny, actually it seemed everyone had a bit of humor. I was always greeted with a smile and laughter or maybe they were just laughing at me, lol.
Mike and I were still together as the sun began to set and we still hadn’t reached the drop bag aid station, yes this tends to happen when you’re slow & with a 10:00 am start. I can't say I was unhappy to have his company, we had a fun time talking loudly to alert the wildlife. This is one of the great things about this sport, you can meet a complete stranger in the middle of no where and talk about menstruation, pee color, diarrhea and laugh.
We were now on a trail that was literally littered; say that 10 times, with animal feces, not just here and there, but every couple of feet. Mike said, this section of trail is only travelled by animals, great muddy shitty game trails, I LOVE THIS RACE:). We were jogging, but it seemed like the miles or kilometers were going by very slowly. Out of nowhere we see a runner coming toward us, are we going in the wrong direction or is he? According to Mike’s knowledge of the course from last years 100k, we were on track and the runner is off by 5k, not good news to hear, but they both chuckled and moved on.
We kept trucking for what seemed to be forever, finally I look ahead to see an aid station, yes! Mile 27, I hope they have more than a couple crackers and gatorade. I Immediately asked for my drop bag, the aid station volunteer pointed to a hut. I headed indoors to find my bag and Karls bag to make sure he was on course. Thus far the trail was mostly deep mud and rocks, my feet were taking a beating and I know that he has foot issues from time to time. I took the time to wipe my feet down and change my socks and shoes, with 17 miles to the next aid I grabbed a shit load of nutrition, thankfully this aid station was fully stocked.
Mike and I left into the night in good spirits, we had a nice mile of dry dirt road to digest our food. We were sure to keep our eyes peeled as this is where others got off track, soon we were back to climbing through the mud and stumbling around slick rocks.
After one slippery muddy step after another, climbing and climbing, Mike had a very bad stomach, emptying out very often, I felt fine waiting, who wants to be alone especially with a rain storm approaching. We continued to climb, I heard the wind whipping furiously, I began to put on the additional layers. Soon we emerged from tree line, the visibility was pretty bad, the wind was kicking up and my body temp was dropping fast, ahead we saw other lights pretty close, always nice to see. We kept pushing against the wind and now rain. The goal was to make it to La Cascapedia (mile 44.7), at this point my plan was to get from one aid station to the next.
I tried to run/walk quickly across the summit to keep warm, the marking on the descent was equally tricky. We eagerly waited for the sun to rise, I looked at my watch which read 3:30 am, sunrise is at 4:00am in these parts. I was wearing a simple timex, I hate knowing too many details of a 2 day event, I really do not need to know that I’m going 30 minute miles and have 70 left...
Well that was a hell of a night, Cascepedia, Cascepedia, where are you? We entered a quiet campground, the aid station was around the corner. Yay, drop bags! I asked where the drop bags were, everyone stared :( then pointed as they realized I was speaking english. We came in high spirits. I opened the enclosed tent to find a lot of people suffering. A woman said wow you look good, I said thanks and good luck! I had no idea how many women were in the race, I thought 15, but to come to find out that was with the relay included. Not that I was racing, I find it exciting to know that there are other women who love this stuff.
I left here feeling better other than my feet! I had a redbull, when I pulled it out of my bag everyone said loudly “REDBULL”, like I was taking crack. I left before Mike, with thoughts of catching the couple who was in front of us, but I couldn’t leave my buddy, we got through some hard times together. I slowed my pace to wait for him. Now that I look back I think maybe he was hoping that I left him :).
This section was filled with shin deep mud, I was no longer having fun. We had one water station left until we get to SKYLINE, MILE 62, YES! This is a major aid station and where all of the other races start and finished (100k, Marathon, Sky Race and prob a 50k...) and where crew/pacers could join. This also was a major cut off. If you didn’t leave here by a certain time, you were out!
ARE YOU STILL WITH ME? We made it to the water stop, literally a jug of water and a some sort of foreign electrolyte replacement, Mike went to the bathroom, I chose to start a conversation asking how much longer to the next aid, the man began speaking french rapidly and pointing. I filled my bladder, smiling. Mike overheard our conversation and said that he didn’t even realize you didn’t speak french, lol. I can’t even tell anymore because at this point I was starting to understand french. We laughed for probably way too long, sleep deprivation was definitely kicking in.
We continued on as speedy runners were flying by us. Mike said that they were in the 100k and started this morning. This section was a fucking nightmare, about 100 runners tried to pass us on the muddiest single track you’ve ever seen, we would move to the side to let one after the next pass, this was a real time sucker. At certain points I said fuck it let them move, we need to make time. We must of said good job a thousand times, suddenly out of the crowd I saw a familiar face running toward me WHAT? JOSH BURNS, WHAT THE HELL?!!! He said Elizabeth! Who would’ve thought in the middle of nowhere in Canada, I run into Josh! I immediately asked if he saw Karl? He said yeah he’s moving strong heading down Elbert, we hugged and said our farewells. So weird, this race!
I WISH I COULD WRITE A SHORT REPORT! After a lengthy climb we were greeted with the second most beautiful part of the course, I know I was pretty sleep deprived, but I felt as if I was transported to Moab, what’s happening here? I stopped to take photos, I think everyone did! The terrain was alpine in nature, small rocks, beautiful wildflowers and small streams, my spirit got transported for a second, until a guy hiking with a mission passes us and says, “lets go we may miss the cut off”, fuck! We glisadded down a long snow patch, fast enough that if I didn’t have poles I would have lost control. That was fun.
As we began the descent from Mt. Elbert, the rocks seemed to get larger and larger, forcing my bleeding blistered feet to ache with every slant. I began to give up hope, I’m never going to make the cut off at this point. I told Mike to go ahead, his crew and pacer were waiting and this was his first hundred! I watched him leave, he shouted, I hope to see you at Skyline. At this point I thought I was bleeding through my sneakers. On a side note I generally do not have blister issues, even at the Grindstone 100 last year when it rained the entire 32 hours of my race, my feet were very sore, but nothing major. This was from loads of mud and very technical terrain. I dragged my feet down the mountain like a sad little girl, I felt bad for the day hikers coming toward me, I must have looked like a homeless person and smelled of rotting carcass.
I wasted a ton of time thinking my race was over. I pretty much convinced myself that I was never going to make cut off. Long behold, I get into the Skyline aid station Mile 100k, one of the RD’s said I have 1:30 min to get to the next hard cutoff. I sat down telling myself this was it, I’m screwed. That was until a couple of awesome doctors fed me, and cared for my feet. My mind started to come around, I stood up, still doubtful but I was going to go! The RD then came over and said he made a mistake, you only have 45 min, what!? I asked around for a pacer, no cigar. As I was placing my pack back on a very tall man who was helping at the AS said he’d come with me to try to get me to the next aid station which would be 8km in 45 min. We left the aid station running.
I did the best I could, but of course there was more climbing, gradual but still up. My pacer said you’re moving well for being up for 30 something hours. My feet actually felt better after the help from the last aid. I was pushing as hard as I could, the trail started to widen, I see the aid station, my pacer communicated to the volunteer on my behalf, pretty much begging to let me continue, I was only a couple of minutes behind. When I figured out that I was being cut, I said do I look like I’m not able to make it? At this point I was fully functional, what can I do for you to let me go? I began to sob, this is crazy. I’m not DNFing, I feel great. I knew people were only minutes ahead of me in worst shape. Crew members for other runners were at this aid station watching me have a melt down, I didn’t care. I spent 30 hours battling, I was finally all in to bring it home. Tears continued to fall! YOU MY FRIEND ARE DISQUALIFIED.
A volunteered asked if anyone could give me a ride back down to Skyline, at this point I was kicking myself for spending too much time at the last aid station and giving up coming down Elbert.
Now what? I got back down to skyline, frustrated at the RD and the whole situation. I looked at him and said does it look like I should be cut? I know they have rules for a reason, really this was my fault, I fucked up, so frustrating. With zero cell service how am I going to get out of this place?
I sat down with disappointment, everyone was sad for me, good thing I was at a party with a live band because Skyline was the finish line area for all the races except the 100. I had a volunteer contact Joe via FB messenger, he was 2 hours away. I guess it’s time to have a beer and get to know the awesome locals. All in all it was an awesome event and I do hope to return next year!
Why did I choose to write about A DQ...
- I had the courage to start. There is no shame in DQ's, DNFs, etc.
- I think everyone should visit this part of the world.
- I love challenges, especially new one’s.
Huge congratulations to Karl Loops, he conquered his first 100 mile race in great fashion! I was choked up watching him finish! He has come so far. When he first contacted us for coaching several years ago, he had very little to no trail running experience. 3 years ago, the Breakneck ½ marathon was his first ever trail race! The UTMA was an amazing race for Karl, he was one of 23 to finish, placing 3rd! Only one woman made it to the finish.
The Drive Home
What a spectacular part of Canada! A place I would have never thought about adventuring too. When the race was over, Joe and I took our time traveling around the entire peninsula, what an amazing place, filled with even better people. I think it's time to learn French, Au Revoir!