Last Friday I started running the Lost Souls ultramarathon. It was hard. Really hard. Harder than the Death Race. But I did finish in 32 hours, 50 minutes and 55 seconds.
The course is through the coulees of Lethbridge in a route that is 53km. You have to do it three times. I can now speak from experience that the coulees are deeper the further north of the city you go. Conditions were bad. It was dusty and a completely clear sky with a hot desert sun.
How did I do it? Aside from the training, it was truly a mental challenge. I had a few strategies that got me through.
The first loop was a complete unknown for me; I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t worry about it. Any hard parts I covered were then a problem for future-me. (I don’t like future-me, he gets all the cool toys and sees all the movies that I’m stuck waiting for. But he’s had it out for me ever since he got signed into a stupid ultramarathon.) Focus on the now! Blissful ignorance will get you very far.
The second loop was mostly in the dark. You can’t fear what you can’t see. You can’t help but focus on the small spot of light in front on you and ignore the rest. (Although I hear if I stopped and looked to the sides I might see a lot of eyes staring back.)
The third loop was again in the light, and it was mentally hard, but it was also the last one. Every step I took, I never had to do again. That helped.
The biggest mental help though was a rock. The day before the race, when picking up the race kit, I learned what the award was for finishing. A big rock, with the Lost Souls logo, your name, and your time sandblasted into it. I was told the logo and the name had already been engraved into it, and it was only awaiting the time. If you didn’t finish, you still got the rock. Let me emphasize that: You still got the rock! In other words, people who fail get a rock with their name on it reminding them of their failure. My mantra during the run became “I am not going to get mocked by a rock.” Obviously it worked.
The aid during the race was fantastic. The best I’ve ever seen. The aid stations have tents and huge amounts of food. And, most importantly, very helpful volunteers. Often I could just come in, sit in a chair and ask them to bring me stuff. I felt spoiled. I tried to always have a glass of coke and a banana. Sometimes the cheap (read salty) chicken noodle soup. During the day I made a habit of getting a handful of ice to put into my cap. I may have frostbitten my scalp, but the gradual cooling helped.
My friends had gullible girlfriends who drove around to all the aid stations, bringing supplies, but I never felt that I was doing worse. I certainly never subjected anyone to staying awake for my entire run. Part of what helped me survive being gullible-girlfriend-less was that I could stow a bucket with my own personal supplies. Which the volunteers would bring to me while I sat in a chair.
Before the run even started, they made everyone get up early to get weighed. (83.3kg) They would then weigh you after every loop to make sure you weren’t losing too much weight; a sign of dehydration. 5% weight loss would get you pulled.
My friends and I didn’t plan to stay together, but we have trained together too often that we all had the same general pace. At pretty much every aid station we saw each other. Robert is usually the fastest, but apparently he is also stealthy; I would assume he had left already and was ahead of me on the trail, when he was just somewhere else in the aid station. I would only find out when he passed me on the trails. The first loop was quite hot, but we were fresh and I made sure to drink a lot. The threat of being pulled helped to remind me to hydrate. By the time I was done, I had gained 0.2kg to 83.5kg. It took us generally nine hours, with a half hour rest at the main station.
The second loop was STARTED in the light. I had thought to store my headlamp at the second aid station, but I’m glad I didn’t. I was with Mike and we tried to get there, but after awhile we had to admit defeat and put on the headlamps. The leg between the main station and the second aid station is somewhat depressing. Forty-five minutes in you can easily see the aid station at the end, but it takes over an hour to reach it.
When darkness fell, it also got cold. With the clear night sky, all the heat escaped. I didn’t wear a jacket, but continued wearing my t-shirt and shorts. I did have arm-warmers that were great. If I got hot, I could roll them up to just my wrists. Often at the aid stations I would need a blanket to keep warm, despite the heater they had in the corner. The volunteers were concerned when I left without a jacket. I would agree with them, but by the time I hit the first hill, I would be overheating and need to roll down the arm warmers. There were very few aid stations that weren’t immediately followed by a tall hill/coulee.
By this time, my teeth were starting to hurt. I hadn’t brushed my teeth in a long time, and I had been eating lots of sugary stuff all day. Since it was cool, I wasn’t feeling as thirsty, so I didn’t drink as much. I actually don’t think I drank any gatorade at night. By the time I was done, I had gone down to 83.1kg. Still healthy enough to continue. It had taken slightly over eleven hours to do that loop, with another half hour rest at the main station.
The third loop was started in the dark, and my friends all left before I was ready. I probably ran too fast to try and catch them. I only caught Mike and I stuck with him. Then I found out that Robert had actually taken a wrong turn and he needed to catch up with us. The first leg is just a short loop to and from the main aid station. I left, as the sun was rising, for the second aid station before them, but I thought I would be going slow and they would catch up. I like running with Mike because he is a good pacer. However, my mind was doing the math and I started thinking about the 35 hour deadline and I couldn’t afford to take it too slow. (I will not be mocked by a rock!) So I didn’t, and only saw them at the second aid station. By this time the people who were only running 50km, who started that morning, were beginning to pass us. I hated them; flaunting all the energy they had and showing off their hope for the future.
The third aid station, Pavan, has a 15km loop to do. This is the hottest area, and the coulees are never ending. I was ahead of my friends (unknowingly of Robert), and I wasn’t doing that bad. Just slugging along. However, on the tail end, I noticed that I didn’t have any sweat on me. I would feel cool in a breeze, but there was no moisture. I don’t know if I was thinking logically, but I was worried I had heatstroke and my sweat mechanism wasn’t working. I was drinking plenty, but I took to splashing water on myself. I even dunked my head in the river to help. Of course, I started slowing down. Eventually Robert came from behind me and talked sense to me and I started running/walking with him.
By this point we had a good enough margin that I wasn’t worried about making the cutoff anymore. I actually started thinking about time; as in getting a better time. I don’t mind if Robert comes in ahead of me, but the one time I let Mike beat me, I got teased about it. He’ll tease me anyway, but it has less sting if I beat him. Robert and I left for the second aid station ahead of Mike.
When I reached it, I only stopped long enough to get some ice and left Robert behind. Only 7km to go, why bother resting? I was sure they were right behind me, so I shuffled along as quickly as I could. There was only one hill left, but some uneven terrain was slowing me down.
While climbing the last hill towards the finish, I kept looking behind me, but I still couldn’t see my friends. Then at the top, there was just a short stretch to the end. I walked a bit, and then resumed my shuffling run. What was that? Someone was letting a dog run free on the course! I don’t have the energy to defend myself. Wait a minute? I know that dog!
My parents had driven down to surprise me at the finish line. Indeed it was, and it was greatly appreciated.
I finished the run.
I had people there to welcome me. I could rest. I could also do the stretching I had long planned to do, and yet I still did not. That loop had taken me nearly twelve hours. About fifteen minutes after I crossed, Robert came in. Thirty minutes later, Mike finished.
We have now all three completed the Alberta Triple.
Half my toenails are in open rebellion. As Darth Vader has taught us, you must crush the rebel alliance. Where’s my hammer?