Thursday, 3 July 2014

Almost a year later: Lost Soul Ultra 100 km race report

Lost Soul Ultra 100k – Race Report

About 4 weeks ago, I finished my first 100k foot race: The Lost Soul Ultra (LSU). It took place in the beautiful Oldman River valley in Lethbridge, which is known for its coulees. According to a coulee is a deep ravine or gulch, usually dry, which has been formed by running water. During the race, multiple of these coulees had to be tackled resulting in a total ascent of 2800 m over 100 km. Good thing I didn’t do the 100 miles!

Okay, but let’s start from the beginning. The race started on Friday morning and Sanja, Sean, Glenn and I arrived at the Lethbridge Lodge on Thursday evening. Without Glenn all of this wouldn’t have been possible. He made sure I get my nutrition at every aid station, helped Sanja to take care of Sean and also driving them back to the hotel when our little one needed his naps.

On race morning we got up at about 6am, had breakfast and I started up my warm up routine. I was still very worried if I am going to make it due to my lack of training and my recent knee injury. At some point during a training run a few weeks back I suddenly got medial knee pain in the right leg. That was extremely disappointing as I just recovered my long lasting hip flexor injury. Nonetheless, I decided to give LSU a try and hopefully be able to finish in less than 15 hours, which would qualify me to enter the lottery for the Western States 100 Endurance run next year in Squaw Valley, CA.

With an optimistic attitude and a smile, I started the run and the first kilometers were flying by. I still couldn’t believe that I just left for a 100 km run! The course is split into 6 segments: An initial 7.1k loop (south loop), followed by 8.3k to the first aid station (Softball Valley, or Pennaquim), 10k to second aid station (Pavan Park), then a 15.8km long loop (north loop) back to Pavan Park aid station, 7.8k back to Pennaquim aid station and 4.7k back to start/finish where I would begin my second loop going straight back to Pennaquim aid station. The 100-milers would do three full laps, including the south loop.

Getting to the first aid station felt fast. The up/down hills were great and I started liking it. My knee was okay too. At aid station #1, I quickly checked in and out, grabbed a new bottle with Heed Perpetuem from Glenn and took off. Everything still felt good, but’s that not surprising given that I only ran 16k at this point. Somewhere between Pennaquim and Pavan Park aid station, I caught up to Oleg Tabelev. Since I was new to Ultra running, I only knew him from the results lists. We introduced each other and ran for a while. He’s a very good ultra-marathoner and well known here. He told me that I am in 3rd place in the 100k (he did the 100 miles) and that I should run it smart. Since I didn’t really know what smart means in a 100k race, I just did what he did: Walking up the hills, running the flats and cruising down the hills. I would usually pass him going up, and he would catch me going down. At some point though, it seemed as if I was pulling away from him.

Keep on rollin'!

I reached the next aid station first and left when he came in. From here on we had to cover the big 16k north loop with only an unmanned water station. Right out of the aid station you had to run a little bit on the road, but then a sharp left turn and up the hill. Once I crested the hill, there was a big wide-open area with knee high grasses. I kept on running straight but couldn’t see the little marker flags anymore. Did I miss the turn? I kept on going for a while because I felt I was right. Still no flags. I recalled the race organizer telling us, if you cannot see a flags within 20-50m, turn around, you are running in the wrong direction. Well, okay I thought, let’s go back. I ran back and saw Oleg again as he reached the top of the hill and did a 90° turn to his left. Crap, I was off course. I ran back, probably too fast, trying to catch him again but I did not see him again.

At this point things became more difficult for the first time in the race. My hamstrings were acting up and started twitching. Not cramping yet but I knew it’s just a matter of time. I slowed down quite a bit, hoping that would make them happy again. The north loop is relatively flat which was great at that point. After about 10min, I was able to pick up speed a little bit and came by a table with flats of bottled water. I wondered whether this is already the unmanned water station. I checked my Garmin and given the distance I ran, this couldn’t be the case. Then I recalled someone saying that a person who lives out there provides athletes with extra water. Very nice I thought grabbed two bottles, drank one right on the spot and filled up my hand-held bottle with the other.

This stretch was on some sort of a road and seemed a bit boring to me. On this road my knee pain came through and intensified quickly. I told myself to forget about the knee and pay more attention to the flags making sure not missing another turn. After a while, the course made a sharp right turn, straight into the grass and up another hill. This was a steep one and my hamstrings signalled me right away to keep it easy. I did not oppose and slowly walked up the hill. 

Some winding up downs followed until the course came down the river. I remember there was quite some bushwhacking at some point. Now, the course followed the river but also directed us through thicker brush at times. At this point, I was not in the best shape anymore and couldn’t wait to finally get to the unmanned water station. And there it was finally, a little tent with gallons of water inside. Great, I thought, filled up and tried to not waste any time. Then to my surprise, I could see the 2nd placed runner in the 100k in front of me (maybe 300m away), but I was never able to catch him although it did motivate me very much (In fact, this guy won the race eventually with a negative split over the two 50k laps!!).

This north loop was mentally really hard and I wondered how I would feel here during lap number two. I kept on checking my Garmin more often now, which was clearly a sign that things are getting tough now. I made it to the Pavan aid station and saw Sanja running toward me. She was yelling and cheering and ran a little bit with me. Then I also saw Glenn who was playing with Sean. I checked-in and Sanja and Glenn did an awesome job supplying me with food and drinks. I told them that my legs were cramping and Sanja massaged my legs with ice bags. As I was almost ready to go again, the 4th person in the 100k rolled in. Her name was Alissa St. Laurent and she looked fresh and happy. When I saw her, I knew it’s only a matter of time when she will pass me.

It was hot!

I left Pavan and headed straight into the next uphill. This was a monster! I managed to get over it but I knew the ups and downs wouldn’t stop till I reach the next aid station (Pennaquim). I started cramping again and had to stop and stretch a few times. From now on it was walking/running/stretching. I managed to get to Pennaquim where my amazing team was waiting for me. They took care of me and gave me drinks and Sanja stretched out my legs again. At that point Alissa passed me and was gone. I got ready again and left shortly after.

Now it was much flatter till headquarters and I was able to jog again. Once I saw the big train bridge that goes across the river valley I knew it wasn’t far anymore. I kept on moving and soon arrived at the big hill right before start and finish. This thing is steeeep. I walked up and ran into the headquarters aid station, which also marks start and finish. Wow! I finished the first lap! As excited as I was, I knew there was another lap coming… another 50k of pushing forward. I switched socks, got all my drinks and Sanja took care of my legs again. At that point I could already see that my little toenail will go but it didn’t hurt. It took my about 5-7 min once I was ready to leave again.

From here on things started to turn worse. I was able to maintain jogging/ walking/ stretching for another 10-15km, and then I decided jogging is over and I walked the rest of the remaining 30+ km. I kept a swift stride though but even that slowed down. It was an interesting feeling when even walking is so painful that you have to slow down. For the rest of the race there was nothing exciting happening. Although I was walking, I didn’t get passed for a long time. Then sometime after the unmanned aid station (north loop) I got passed from another 100k runner.

Heading into Pavan, I was in pain. My support crew did a great job in keeping me motivated and I headed out again. Sanja walked with me a little bit and did an amazing job dealing with me at that point. Mentally, I was on the edge of breaking apart but I just looked down and kept hiking up and down the coulees. 

I am not sure how long it took from Pavan to Pennaquim but heading into this last aid station I started to feel somewhat better. Glenn was waiting there for me and Sanja was already in the Hotel putting Sean to bed. At that point it was dark and I had to wear my headlamp when I left the aid station.

This last part was actually quite fun now! Navigating in the dark in the Lethbridge River Valley was awesome! It wasn’t really difficult as there were little marker flags with reflectors so you could definitely not get lost (and lose your soul in the dark). I passed a female racer in the woods and tried to be very loud so that I would not scare her. It was pitch black and kind of scary. Knowing the finish is close kept on making me walk quicker and quicker. And then finally, that last big hill! I walked it up and made my way to the finish. I didn’t even attempt to run across the finish line and just kept walking. I thought it was kind of silly after I was walking for 30+ km to suddenly start running for 100m. But that’s just me. Sanja was waiting in the finish and I was extremely happy to see her there. I sat down and chatted with a few other racers and their experience. At that point I didn’t feel any pain. I ate 2 hot dogs and after 30min I wanted to get up but it didn’t work! Sanja helped me up and I was limping with her to our room. My knee was busted.

In the end it finished 4th in my age group in a time of 13:38:32. What a tough race! 100km, 2800m of elevation and I cannot believe I actually made it!! If you want to check out my race on Strava, click here. The scares of the battle: a messed-up right knee, a pulled left hamstring, two bloody toe nails and the soles of my feet felt like they got sandblasted. It took my knee about 4 months to recover but it was a great experience nonetheless, however without Sanja, Sean and Glenn I wouldn’t have been able to finish the way I did. THANKS GUYS!

In the finish and happy to be done!

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