canada general

Run the Wild

My first rogaine in Canada! Well, Run the Wild is more than just a rogaine. Let’s call it an orienteering and rogaining and fun themed race of awesomeness.

We were handed the maps in three stages. First up was a section that was apparently based on an orienteering peg race? With no real orienteering experience, I had no idea what anyone was talking about. But it involved collecting ribbons at checkpoints, and if you were one of the first ten teams to some of the controls, you had to go off and collect an extra checkpoint, and therefore extra ribbons, and therefore end up with more points.

Section two was a trail run of sorts, but with checkpoints along the way, each with one of a series of connected name on them: Rod, Gail and Neil. The trick then was to work out the connection between the names. As an Australian rogainer, it was an easy connection to make from a well known story. All of the Canadian orienteering types were baffled. (They were the three Australians who invented rogaining – the awkward name comes from combining each of their names)

Then onto section three, which was the two map main rogaining part of the course. And we swept the entire course (i.e. collected every single checkpoint!). With 1hr15min to spare in a 6 hour race! This was largely due to Miles and his brilliant navigating – once we settled into the main course, we were bang on arriving at every single control.

There was a brief stop at checkpoint 99 for a “String-O”. Tie yourself to your partner, clip into the string, remove your watches, guess how long it will take you to complete the course. Winner is the team who finishes closest to their guess. Fun, and my counting was pretty bang on, we’d just guessed a time that was too hard to achieve – maneuvering through a field of boulders while attached to someone else is just as difficult as you might think it is.

As we hunted down checkpoints, I was constantly baffled by the fine detail of the maps. I’m used to Australian rogaining maps, where you count yourself lucky to get 1:25,000 or 1:30,000 maps. I couldn’t get the hang of the 1:10,000 map, and just how much detail would be visible with the wacky 5 metre contours an orienteering notations (park bench… fallen tree… boulder… really!?).

Great fun though. And there was port. And delicious post-race food. And swag. And I won a tree! Although I lost my jacket :( So hopefully the tree will be able to protect me from the elements while I’m out running.

bikes canada general

Singletrack6 – Day 5 & 6

Day Five – Moonraker Trails, Golden. 58km, 1460m.
Waking up cranky and hungry – never a good sign! Catching the bus downtown, getting ready…. maybe raiding the breakfast buffet for some extra food, because I was feeling ravenous… then downtown to the start line.

We had a neutral start with the police car leading us out of town again, but this time in the other direction. And once we hit the single track it was pretty obvious I wasn’t feeling it. Didn’t feel like racing, just wanted to relax and enjoy the trails. Because they were fun!

I tried to convince my legs that they should keep spinning. And jockeyed for position as we climbed up CBT.

Things got a little flowy for a while, with me riding in my own little bubble. I’d zone out and slow down, then remember I was supposed to be racing and try and hurry up.

Hurrying up was easier once we settled into the final big climb, up to the edge of the canyon. It was warm out as we climbed, but there’s something gloriously simple about a task so straight-forward as just riding up a hill, and I settled into a happy climbing rhythm. But then the climbing ended! And the canyon-side descending began!

The descent wasn’t feeling great right from the start. Then there were a few steep switchbacks in a row. I hesitated at the start of the second one, then instead of riding it, or making the decision to jump off and run down it, I overbalanced and bounced down, bike landing on top of me. Ow. I cleared the landing zone, and a team riding past yelled out to check I was ok. I thought I probably was, at least for now, so jumped back on my bike and kept going.

My thigh had taken a decent hit from something, and was feeling pretty sore, but otherwise I seemed ok. But was now feeling even more cautious about descending. But the trails were fun, and mostly shady, and I managed to settle into something resembling an ok pace.

After the timed descent (down Gold Rush I think?) where I was overtaken a lot (not a great descending day for me today) our final bit of singletrack was Take It Easy. Which we did. I don’t know if the others were thinking the same thing, but I knew we had a few kilometres of paved road back into town, and sticking with a little group would mean we could form some kind of paceline, and cover the distance way faster than I’d be able to do on my own. This was a great plan, and worked brilliantly (hurrah, something going according to plan!)

Despite not having a great day, there was still the nice cold Kicking Horse River to soak in. And another recovery caesar. And somehow I’d made it into 6th place overall in open women! (Out of about 45 or so in total, the below results were just a printout of results in progress). So hurrah.

Following yesterdays epic, I didn’t even bother trying to get back up to the hotel. Instead I napped out by the rec centre (fully stocked with nice comfortable mats), before wandering back into town for dinner (mmm, Whitetooth Bistro), and back with plenty of time to catch the presentations for the day, and my bus back up the hill. And that all worked out perfectly as well!

Day Six – Macpherson Trails, Revelstoke. 47km, 1340m.
I caught a ride to Revelstoke, ready for the final day of riding. Sort of. I was feeling about as energetic as an overcooked bowl of spaghetti, and we were going to be starting LATE today. And it was going to be unpleasantly warm. And my thigh was coming up with all sorts of wonderful bruises and soreness after yesterdays crash. So, as you can see, I had a good set of excuses ready to roll right off the bat.

A tasty cupcake lifted my spirits a little. Excess cupcakes are one of the additional bonuses to multi-day racing.

But as we lined up in downtown Revelstoke, I was not feeling stoked. I was feeling overheated, and already looking forward to finishing the next 47km. Worried about the heat, I’d changed my usual plan, carrying a pack instead of my usual 2 bottles on the bike. I don’t know if this was a good plan.

We set off, and there was an awful lot of racing through the powerline clearcut. I started to melt. We’d head into the shady trees for a while, then out again into the blazing sun. My gears started to play up. My rear wheel came off again. My seat bag worked itself open and I had to stop and pick up tools that had fallen out. I slammed into a piece of wood and my front tyre burped. My water was no longer cool, but unpleasantly warm, and not at all refreshing. My legs had no energy, and I wasn’t enjoying the trails that I knew should have been fun.

But I kept going. And going. It was a bit of a slog. Sorry Macpherson trails, I know you can be fun, it’s not you, it’s me.

Eventually, after riding my bike through a scorching hot desert for a thousand years, it was finally time for Flowdown! And the timed descent! And Flowdown meant we were nearly back into town, so just one more long slog in the sun to go. And that last long slog seemed to last forever though. Although I did manage to catch another rider, and hang onto his rear wheel for a little while at least.

I collapsed over the finish line. There were sprinklers. There was a finishers medal. Some food. Grass. Family. Icecream.

My super slow day had knocked me back into 8th in open women. Oh well. Much better than I’d expected going into the race. Although it was a little anticlimactic. But my first MTB stage race was complete! I really need to do another one now…

bikes canada general

Singletrack6 – Day 3 & 4

Day Three – Invermere. 46km, 1200m.

Riding in Invermere is all about the excitement and anticipation of early season riding with friends, and the joy of being back on a bike on dirt after a long, long winter. Trails there are dry and dusty when the Canmore trails are still packed with ice and snow, and 15oC in Invermere seems more like 20oC… while 15oC in Canmore seems closer to 10oC. It’s like a little magical mountain bike world we can escape to while winter still has Canmore in its icy grip. So I enjoy riding the trails there, and after Nipika I was really looking forward to racing something a little smoother with a little more flow.

We caught the bus out from Radium to a staging area just past Lilian Lake. The start today was in waves as well – six waves this time? I think I was in the second. Later in the day we were going to be riding my old friends, Kloosifier and the Johnson, but first up was a mix of newly built singletrack, and re-purposed dirt bike trails. It was dusty, and a little rough, but I was having a great time!

There were some steep, sandy hike-a-bike climbs (here’s hoping the guys at the front couldn’t ride them all, they were tough!). But the skies were wide open and blue, and the views were fantastic, and I just love the Invermere riding for some reason.

After a good 20km or so on the new trails, we ended up on roads for a while, cutting through a small town before climbing up and up and up on a dirt road. Past the scene of some nefarious course tampering – thankfully it was all properly marked again by the time I got there – and onto the Kloosifier. Except we were doing it backwards! Oh well, still fun. Just… not quite as much fun as it should have been. Also my gears were getting a little weird. I stopped and checked my rear skewer. Nope, still good, wheel not about to fall off. Oh well.

I was flying along and having a great time as we hit the Johnson, and was really looking forward to hammering the final 10km of fun and familiar trail. And then I didn’t have any gears all of a sudden. What?! I stopped and looked. My rear derailleur cable was snapped. This had never happened before, and I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could do to improve the situation. I tried manually pushing my chain over onto an easier gear, but thanks to the lack of cable tension, it just flopped right back onto my hardest gear. Damn. If only I was a better bike mechanic! Oh well, looks like I’m single speeding the rest of this. Damn damn damn! Could be worse.

And so I sadly stopped then fun game I’d been having of gradually reeling people in and overtaking them (these trails really suit my riding apparently … or perhaps it’s the advantage of a familiar course … or more likely I was just riding strong because I was enjoying myself so much). I rode up what I could, and ran my bike up what I couldn’t. And there’s nothing like restricted gear options to stop you from braking too much on the downhills.

I rolled into the finish line a little disappointed, but glad my bike had still been able to keep going – there were worse mechanical issues I could have had.

From there it was straight to Lilian Lake for a soak. Chatting and hanging out with other fellow bike freaks. Then lazing on the grass in the shade. Then hopping back into the lake again. Life is hard.

That evening I dropped my bike off to the race mechanics, had a nap, then icecream, and caught up with an old friend for some tasty Mexican in Radium (who would have thought it?). Fun times.

Day Four – Golden, Mountain Shadows. 28km, 1000m.

I caught a ride with some of the support crew to get from Radium to Golden this morning – no coach rides for me today! We pottered around Golden, I helped unload bikes from the truck, then gradually got organised and rolled the couple of kilometres over to the starting line in the middle of town. My bike was fixed, and today was a short one, on trails I’d never ridden before. With a timed descent that sounded potentially epic. I was a little afraid, but what could possible go wrong?

The tunes of Highway to Hell played us out of town, as our police car escort led us to the base of the climb. Oooh, a climb! I wasn’t feeling warm, but that changed pretty quickly. Every day so far had been reaching 30 – 35oC, and it was warming up as we slogged our way uphill in the sun. Pleasantly we occasionally dived off onto tracks in the trees, before re-emerging to keep climbing on the baking hot road. Brief conversations of few syllables as we climbed. Dust. Sun. Sweat. More climbing.

And then it was descent time! It was all pretty rideable, nice. But a proper descent this time, in a rugged, sandy, rocky, rooty kind of way. There were a few moments of doubt, and some things that I might have walked if I wasn’t racing, and was feeling more timid. I was overtaken by some… overtook others… and then a few of us reached a knocked over course marker. Which way do we go? No idea. We yelled out, and a photographer lurking downhill a little told us to head left. Right. But 20 seconds or so of indecision meant that a big group of us had formed, and so we all headed off downhill together in a pack. Oh well.

From there it was onto the Mountain Shadows trails – which were kind of rocky, rooty, technical and fun! I was enjoying the riding, gradually catching and overtaking some of the downhill speedsters. Past an aid station with bacon (I didn’t partake). A too-sharp turn off double track onto single track, and I ended up side-swiping a stump, which gouged my leg. Blood!

It wasn’t a long day though, and before long we were heading back into town. Spectactors were hanging around, someone sprayed water on me – oh thank you! It was getting warm by then. A final swoopy descent through lovely cool deep forest, and then out onto the river trail through town, trying to reconcile racing as fast as I could with avoiding being too much of a menace on a public trail… then done! And into the river to soak.

I settled in at one of the bistros downtown, joining a Canadian couple who were racing as a team, having a delicious lunch and a very tasty recovery caesar.

It was after that everything started to go pear-shaped. I caught the bus up to the Glacier Mountain Lodge, along with a few other racers. We’d arrived 15 minutes before official check-in, and found the lobby strewn with Singletrack6 folk who were waiting to check-in. Apparently they were short-staffed, and were still cleaning the rooms. I settled in to wait. Tired and hungry. Apparently my room would be about 40 minutes. 2 hours later, I finally got into my room. I’d missed the first bus back down to town, but made the second which was running late.

Now, the downfall of not signing up for meals was that I was then stuck a 25 minute walk from most of the restaurants in town, and the bus driver had said he’d be back in an hour to run us back up the hill. Still tired, still hungry, not thinking clearly, I just walked to the supermarket for food. Nearly melting in the heat. I panic bought a few random items, then headed back to catch the bus. Which wasn’t going to leave for ages yet. Argh!

On the bus ride home, the driver had played us some music from the band of the bus owner. From the poster on the bus wall it looked like death metal. In reality, it was more like the ‘Sesame Street on acid’ that the driver described. Thoroughly hippy, wildly bizarre lyrics, it lent the evening a perfectly surreal tone, as we sat on a school bus, driving up a mountain at 9pm, listening to music that told me that I shouldn’t cut trees down because the squirrels needed them. I really wish I could remember the name of the band, just so I could confirm with myself the whole incident wasn’t just a hallucination.

bikes canada general trip reports

Singletrack6 – Day 1 & 2

Back in the middle of winter, I entered into a competition by Tourism Golden, to win entry into the Singletrack6 MTB stage race. It was going to be the replacement for the old epic Transrockies bike race from Fernie to Canmore. Just with a lot more sleeping in town, a lot less mud, shorter days, and much much more singletrack. But still six days of bike racing.

Then when we were on holiday down in Bend, I found out I’d won it. And I was a little bit scared, but quite a lot excited.

Day One – West Bragg Creek. 42km, 1500m gain
The event started over on the West Bragg trails. We arrived super early, so I’d have plenty of time to check in. Checking in took 30 seconds. So we spent some time throwing rocks in a creek, and messed around, until all of a sudden it was time to be getting into the starting corale, and I had left it a little late, and crammed in somewhere towards the back of the mid-pack.

The customary ACDC Highway to Hell played over the speakers, and then I spent a lot of the first ten minutes trying to overtake as many people as I could before we hit the singletrack. Where I was stuck. In a slooow slooow singletrack train. It did eventually thin out though – especially once we started climbing up Pneuma!

Things were going pretty smoothly, except I’d started to lose my lower gears – the chain just wouldn’t want to sit in granny gear. I wondered what could be wrong, and whether I’d be able to get my bike seen by a mechanic that afternoon, until somewhere along Strange Brew, my back wheel fell off. Ah. So apparently that’s a thing with the new hollow axles – they can be too dry, and they’ll work their way out, until your wheel will drop out. Fitting my wheel back on fixed the issue with the gears though – hurrah!

I’d lost some time messing around though, and was overtaken by another solo female – although I could out-climb her, she totally outclassed me on the descents, and so as we dropped back down towards the finish line, I didn’t have a hope of catching her. Especially after I ran into a tree with one kilometre to go. Well, the end of my right handlebar ran into a tree. My bike took this as a sign that I wanted to hug the tree. So I did, before picking us both up and continuing.

Day 1 down – that wasn’t so bad! I’d tried to take it as easy as I could – my first real multi-day event, who knows how it would go.

Day Two – Nipika. 42km, 800m gain
Ah, Nipika, my old nemesis. Actually I’d only ridden here once before. Although my memories of it were vague, I was haunted by a sense of not wishing to return. Once we started racing it all came flooding back to me. Nipika is rough! If it’s not rooty it’s rocky. And if there are no roots or rocks, there is constantly uneven ground, so you can never just easily sit and spin to cover distance – you have to fight for Every Single Metre. And for my spinners legs, it’s a challenge. They’re not great at pushing over that kind of terrain.

On the plus side, it is beautiful though.

We started this day in waves of 10, based on the results of the previous day. I was in around the ninth wave, so got to watch some of the fast kids taking off before I set off – and met someone who rode the same awesome bike that I do! She was riding in a mixed pair, and they were the beginning of a collection of riders I ended up getting to know, just because we kept a pretty similar pace each day.

Things got warm, legs kept spinning. I spent most of the last 20km just dreaming of the nice cool pond back at the finish line.

Once I hit the finish line, it was straight to the pond, feeling a little in need of a hug. I’d caught the ST6 bus out to Nipika that morning – just me, my bike and my duffle bag, out to take on the world on our own, while my menfolk stayed home. But it’s a little lonely, doing a big multi-day race on your own. Although I ended up meeting a whole lot of awesome people, it would be really fun to do a race like this with some friends you knew beforehand too.

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