bikes canada general trail running

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)

canada general snow trail running

This is what it looks like when you go running when it’s -26oC outside

The sky is gorgeous, clear and blue, and everything sparkles, even the air (sadly not captured at all well by a slightly foggy phone camera, but you’ll have to take my word for it).

Your lens fogs up, so you can’t properly capture the misty river, steaming in the cold air, and flowing sludgily with ice.

And your breath freezes on everything it touches.

During this cold spell we also tried the famous “throw a container full of freshly boiled water into the air and watch it vaporise”. And it really does work!

canada general snow trail running

Ha Ling peak again

A dusk ascent.

Directly up via the Grassi Lakes trail, and on along the climbers trail to the pass. Past people wearing inappropriate shoes, who warned me it would be slippery coming back down. I had Yaktrax on though, and was invincible!

It’s always a little bit intimidating running up Ha Ling from town – it looms over you so, and seems so high and imposing and improbable

Up above Grassi Lakes, in black and white because the light was so low my phone couldn’t actually capture colour properly anyway.

A couple of people on their way down over the first kilometre or so, not too long after sunset. And then I was on my own. The mountain got darker, but between the snow and the light of the half moon, I didn’t bother with my headlamp. The trail was well packed all the way, thankfully no treeline post-holing and snow-wading this time around.

I turned my headlamp on at the summit, and Alex messaged that he could see me. A quick glance down to the warm orange glow of Canmore, nestled between the mountains, then back down again, looking out west to the last glow of pink on the clouds, up to the warm orange glow behind me, to the half moon casting my shadow onto the snowy slope, and to the trail, always keeping an eye on that slippery snowy trail.


I made good time on the descent, and convinced my legs into a tired jog trot to get home for dinner. Around 3.5 hours door to door, with 3 hours of moving time. Not bad for winter conditions.

bikes canada general moosling snow trail running

Winter begins


Shall we go and ski up that hill?

Skiing Frozen Thunder

On Saturday it started snowing. And the Moosling wanted to ride his bike to the park. Snow biking – nurture or nature?


Out on a snow biking expedition on Sunday

The Moosling tries some powder skiing, while Alex rides around on the Moonlander

Then I went out for a run. There were hoards out on the Nordic Centre single track, although Long Road to Ruin was less well trodden than EKG.

Our prolonged autumn season is now over for good, and any fun on the trails will be snow fun.

canada general trail running

The Grizzly50 Ultra

A year ago, the Grizzly 50 was my first ultramarathon, the first time I’d run further than 35km, the first time I’d raced further than 21km. In the intervening year I’d run the Frozen Ass 50 (on sealed trails in Calgary in the middle of winter, a terrible idea), and the Powderface42 (held at the Canmore Nordic Centre due to flood damage around the actual route). I’d been signed up for a couple more 40-50km trail running events, both cancelled due to the floods. But by now the idea of running a long way on trails was no longer slightly terrifying and incomprehensible. It was something I knew I could do. I had lost the fear. I had, perhaps, become a little too relaxed about the whole idea.

So when I spent three weeks in Australia (running a few times, but spending most of my time sitting in a car, on an aeroplane, or just sitting around coughing a lot and feeling dreadful), and then a few more weeks back in Canada (also sitting around a lot, feeling tired, jetlagged, sick again, and unmotivated) not exactly getting the best possible lead up to a 50km trail run, I figured it would still probably be ok.

Surprisingly enough, it kind of was. For the first 25km, I was even on track for a sub 5-hour finish. But then my calves started cramping. I would catch a toe on a root, and a spasm would grip my entire calf, holding my toes en pointe as my calf muscle bulged angrily. I worked hard to keep my toes up, as spasms flickered around my calves and up and down the side of my legs. My right IT band muttered angrily at me, and my knees glared a little. I slowed down, gritted my teeth, and tried to keep my legs under control. I sadly shuffled down fun single track descents that should have had me leaping joyously from root to rock, and cursed myself for my lousy preparation. And I shivered and ran harder as the grey skies darkened, and it snowed a little.

The best part of this race (apart from the fun course), is the fact that it consists of five different loops, of different lengths, covering different terrain, but all looping back to the Nordic Centre daylodge. It makes for wonderful motivation when you have a rotating cheering squad greeting you at the end of each lap (and momentary confusion, as you try and follow the correct course markings for the lap you’re on next – you only need to be able to count from one to five, but that gets quite tricky around lap three or four).

Anyway, the end result was that I finished. Annoyingly in a slightly slower time than last year, but 5.5 hours on the course wasn’t too bad given the lousy lead-up to the day. Will I do it again next year? Undecided for now, but I feel the need to do it properly – so perhaps!

Distance: Rather rudely, the course is 51.2km instead of 50km. Percentage-wise it’s not a huge error, but the final 1.2km passed in a haze of bitter resentment and glaring at my watch.
Elevation gain: 1202m
Time: 5hours 32min