Just Say ‘No’ to Ultramarathons

Whenever I find myself thinking, “I’ve got this. No problem.” quick re-assessment rather than going forward with confidence needs to take place.

Most times I am completely fine and I have whatever ‘it‘ is, but the moments when I don’t, or in this case the 4 hours, quickly become epic.

  • I run with crazy women. Crazy in a good way, but at the end of the day crazy is crazy.

Which means, by association, I am firmly in the crazy category.

Running is not something I enjoy all that much. I love being fit, strong, capable and powerful – able to do more than the average woman, but I do not love running. I run for the challenge, cross training, to be healthy and to grow my mental discipline. Most of all, I run to spend quality time with my friends; they keep me on my toes, both literally and figuratively.

The crazy women are training for the Blackfoot Ultra Marathon, I am not, I repeat, I am not running 52 kms on hilly trails for fun. Nonetheless, yesterday I went for a run out on the trails with them for ‘fun‘ and ‘moral support‘.

blackfoot running donloree

Welcome to spring in the subarctic tundra and the ONLY flat part of the run.

There were a few small problems, aka gaping holes, with my support.

  1. The route was the most challenging course I have ever run in my life.
  2. 25 km was the plan. Prior to this, I had only run 26 km once before with 22 km being the average long distance and 16-20 km being comfortable.
  3. My right quad and IT band are currently on strike.
  4. AND I am still recovering from a monster cold.

But why not? You only live once, right?

I heard myself say, “What the heck – could be fun…. Besides, I have never run x-country trails for that long of a distance. It will be an adventure.

Holy adventure Batgirl.

We met at 7:30 am at one of our usual starting locations, then we piled into cars and drove for 45 minutes to the middle of nowhere, aka Blackfoot Park.

  • The plan was simple – do a loop.

Loops I can do, and no I don’t need a map — thank you for asking? I decided it was going to be simple – one loop and voilà, amazing run complete.

Apparently everything I decide doesn’t pan out the way I think it will.

Back to those pesky, gaping holes.

  • The terrain was freakishly hilly, as in that is all it was – hills. Literally over 100 of them were completed by your’s truly.
  • There is no water on the trail other than sloughs and I finished my 2 litres of water at the 20 km mark.
  • Coughing up a lung while trying to eat a few gummies on a walk break resulted in aspirating my carbs instead of ingesting them.
  • The loop was something we needed to create in the matrix of trails, Donloree – 0, Nature – 1.
  • Deep life lessons learned by continuing forward when all you want to do is sit on the ground and weep become annoying instead of meaningful after 3 hours of hearing the leaves crunch under your mud collectors *ahem* x-country running shoes.
  • I would have died without my more advanced running friends who had sunscreen, extra water, blister packs, advil, gluten free granola bars, a sandwich or two, 3 litres of water and alcohol wipes in their super athlete water packs.

Oh, did I mention we got lost?

Lost. I hate being lost.

The main problem with being lost is that you can’t go back the way you came because you have no idea where the path went. As is true in life, the only way forward is to keep going and the map is only helpful once you’ve orientated yourself to where the heck you are now.

  • Orientation sometimes takes longer than you expect and oftentimes reorientation and even re-reorientation is required.

The map with the ‘you are here‘ screw was less than optimal. We would find ourselves at an intersection with three intersecting trail options, only two existed on the map and the one we thought we should take was straight on the map and a hairpin turn in real life.

We spent a lot of time looking at the green maps and cursing the men who made them.

blackfoot map

Looks helpful, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, the map needs to be about four times this size with more details. MANY more details.

It was pretty at the start and then as time went on I stopped caring about the new green grass poking through the brown tundra, the crunch of the leaves under my feet and the blue sky with fluffy clouds. My whole body hurt and death by wild animal seemed like a good alternative to continuing; the coming of spring no longer brought joy to my soul.

Swear words formed in my mind as the next hill appeared and it was all I could do to keep them from spilling out of my mouth; I was not always successful in this pursuit.

Reality check.

The encouraging and hopeful women of the group looked at their Garmins around the 23km mark and let us know we only had 2km more to go.

I am a realist and couldn’t ignore the fact that we had been lost for awhile and additional hills and trails were coming up; I knew we had more than 2km left to go. At the 25km mark, four of us started to walk and ravenously ate all the food we had left in our packs; water was a thing of the past for all of us.

  • It has to flatten out at some point” was what I kept telling myself; the truth it is doesn’t and it didn’t.
run stat April 16

As you can see, we were lost in the middle for a decent chunk of time. Notice we did MORE than the requisite 25km. Kill me now.

Not only was it hillier and longer than I anticipated, it was warmer out than I thought it was going to be; the transition from winter to summer is always a bit rough. 17 Celsius felt like a tropical heatwave. I nearly peeled my shirt off at the 18 km mark, then I wondered out loud if anyone would care if I ran without pants because at 7:00 am tights, not shorts, seemed like a good plan.

  • I kept my pants on and kept running.

And all I could think was, “Where is my bike? What in the world am I doing out here without my bike?”

I love cycling.

While on the trails I bemoaned the fact that killing my body by putting one foot in front of the other probably meant my plan to pedal for hours and hours on Sunday would need to be readjusted.

  • Note to self: always prioritize cycling.

Another important learning of yesterday is that 25 kms of happy mountain biking not even 12 hours prior to running 28 kms of hills is probably not the wisest thing a woman can do; you live and learn … or you’re training for a half ironman or ultramarathon, neither of which I am doing.

There is a gift in being naïve, it gets you out there. Just make sure you have some gumption and fabulous friends to get you back home.

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Comments

  1. This is relatable. Totally. I ran my first marathon 10 years ago or so; The California International Marathon. A friend suggested it because it was cumulative downhill course. Translation: The ending elevation is in fact 400 lower than the start. However, my friend — an elite marathoner, failed to mention this is one of the hardest courses in the country because there is little flat ground. I was either running uphill or downhill most of the way. The downhills did not make up for the uphills which I wasn’t prepared for. Finishing time: 4 hours 5 minutes. Oy.

    BTW: Just finished a book that really is up your alley and I can’t recommend it enough. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It’s about writing, running, philosophy of overcoming obstacles, and on growing older. I really thing you’d like it!

    • Thanks for the book recommendation, friend! I have it on hold at the library because I am THAT cool – complete book nerd and library aficionado.

      Don’t you love how elite athletes approach life? “There is more downhill than uphill, which makes this an efficient course to run.” This only makes decent sense if there is one massive uphill and TWO massive downhills … after that, its’ just silliness. Your finishing time is quite impressive with all those hills. 🙂

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