Rundle’s Revenge – The Iron Donkey edition

Rundle’s Revenge – mountain biking a 12.5km loop on Saturday, and trail running the same loop on Sunday. Up at the Canmore Nordic Centre. I did it back in 2012, and completed the “Half Donkey”, with 50km of biking and 25km of running. Apparently that wasn’t hard enough, so the next time round I signed up for the Full Iron Donkey. 100km of biking, and 50km of running. Just on the verge of being impossibly stupid, yet attainable. In 2013 the race was cancelled due to the floods, and I heaved a massive sigh of relief, as I was in no way even close to being fit enough. And so my entry rolled over to 2014.

And suddenly, it was the day before the race. Was I ready? I didn’t feel terribly ready. But I was at least vaguely optimistic that I might be able to complete the course. Maybe.

From the very first lap on my bike, my knees started aching, and my back muscles were feeling painfully tight (I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve, but hopefully I can work it out and stop them from doing it again). The trails were quite greasy from the rain the night before, and some of the downhill rooty sections were downright treacherous. I drew blood once in a mini wipe out before slowing things down a little and keeping it conservative.

On the plus side, I’d self seeded almost perfectly at the start, to the point where I was actually riding sections of trail all on my own right from the very first lap, despite the hundreds of other riders on the course. Things pretty quickly settled into a rhythm of riding old familiar trails, slowing down to eat on the double track sections, then replenishing my food stores as I looped back around by the daylodge.

On lap 3 I caught up to a rider who seemed to be faster than me, or at least a very similar speed. I was following him up a short steep climb (on Baby Beluga), and wondering why I had caught up with him, when his bike suddenly rose up on its back wheel. Front wheel high in the air, I stared at it, vaguely horrified and wondering what was going on. The bike and rider pirouetted sideways to fall off the trail down the slope instead of falling on me. The rider had fallen stiff as a board, head downhill and clutching at his leg. Cramp. He assured me he was fine, and I rode on.

The day was warm, so the trail was gradually drying out, and was in pretty good shape for my last 4 laps – so as I lost time going slower on the uphills, I was getting faster on the no longer treacherous downhills.

As the trails became quieter and quieter though, with all of the riders doing shorter distances finishing, then all of the faster riders finishing, I was having unhelpful conversations with myself (with my superego?): “Why are you riding so slowly? You are terrible!” “Because I don’t want to cramp, because I know I have to run 50km tomorrow, because my knees hurt!” “Why do your knees hurt so much? Is it because you haven’t been doing your physio exercises? You ride your bike a lot, you should be much faster than this.” “Look, there’s an interesting bird, leave me alone.” “Do you really think you’ll be able to run 50km tomorrow?” “I’m going to try.” “Hah!”

The fun descents were distracting though, and a penultimate lap was finally followed up by a no-stopping-for-anything final lap, which was my fastest of the day, hurrah, leading to a finish in 8hours 10minutes. 100km, 2800m elevation gain.

And then it was time to stop, and soak in a cold lake. Which stung. I didn’t even think about chamois cream beforehand, but it probably would have been a good idea. Then lots of stretching, and trying to eat. Although I’d been trying to rely on eating lots of actual food, my stomach was still feeling angry and unsettled as a result of the days exertions.

8am, standing on the starting line again, Sunday morning. I set off, and was pleasantly surprised to discover my legs weren’t feeling as painful as they could have done. I ran all the way up the first hills. I was doing ok! But I was very definitely feeling tired.

The first lap was easiest – there were people everywhere to talk to, to listen to, to watch. Second lap, my people started disappearing. Third lap, I started running on my own. And by that point, I had already learnt to hate the flowing downhills that were so fun on my bike. I was glad for the rooty trails, as they meant there was less of my brain free to think about how much I was hurting, and although I was stumbling from time to time, I always managed to catch myself. It was an exercise in learning how to suffer cheerfully, and distracting myself looking at trees, squirrels, birds, thinking about what I’d eat at the next aid station (nearly always watermelon and cola on this day), focusing on getting up the next section of trail, remembering people who had been cheering me on, mentally naming the runners who I ran in the vicinity of for kilometres (carrot, jingly bells and flappy pack, you guys were awesome). My mind descended into complete surreality and randomness, and I became wildly emotional. And I ran, and I ran.

I wasn’t setting any pace records, as I struggled up the hills and on the flat, and painful knees had me shuffling down hills too. Weird pains flickered around, but thankfully never settled – except my right IT band, which become more and more angry, so it was painful to bend my right leg. Problematic. But at least I didn’t have cramp. I ended up carrying around my emergency pickle juice for nothing! The one person I tried offering it to was happy to do without.

Then it was penultimate lap (“Penultimate lap! Second last lap! One more to go! Watch the roots, lift your feet, you can do this! You only have to run this bit one more time!”), being overtaken by the winning 50km runner (curse you Andy Reed!), and then it was time for the final lap! (“Last lap! Last lap! Feet! Feet! Feet! Don’t have to do that hill again.”) More watermelon, some more fizzy cola drink at the last aid station. Then run, run, run. Out of water. But nearly there! Dip my buff in the creek that flows across the Georgetown Trail, put it back on my head dripping wet. Run, run… walk a bit, run! Into the stadium and across the finish line at 6hours 15min.

My slowest 50km run yet, but under the most difficult circumstances. Podium photos, more watermelon, sit in a river, and then home. I did it!

(And now I never have to do it again)

(And I get the last laugh Rundle, because two days later, and I’m actually feeling pretty good already)

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