What a great weekend! Josh and I went away to Blue Mountain (Collingwood) for a few days while I raced the North Face Summit 700 Challenge. Blue Mountain is so beautiful and only a few hours away so why not! The Summit 700 had distances of 6k, 10k and 21k. As I found the race a few weeks ago, I tossed between the 10 and 21 but ultimately decided that I wanted to be able to walk afterwards so 10k it was!
Race morning I was a bit behind starting my warmup since I had difficulty figuring out exactly where the start line was. We found it, and I ran off for a 4k warm up. Nearing the end of that warmup I looked over only to find Reid Coolsaet running down the parking lot. I yelled over to him and he explained that he was here to watch and couldn’t find the start. I laughed, since I had JUST encountered this problem! I directed him to the start and chatted away some pre-race nerves.
Off we went at 9am STRAIGHT up the mountain. If you haven’t been Blue Mountain it’s a ski resort, so the hill we ran up, yeah, that was a ski hill! I got off the start line to crawling start. The hill was so steep, it had to be at least 45 degrees. My stride felt strange, as if I was carrying extra weight behind me. I looked left and right, and somehow I was leading the entire race. “Oops,” I thought. “I should let the guys set the pace for me because likely they are good trail racers and I’m a road runner “playing” trail girl today.” As we reached the top of that section (about half-way up) and turned right, we were able to open our strides and jaunt across the nice grass section. The problem though, it wasn’t such a nice grass section – the grass was so long I was more worried about rolling my ankle here than on the trails ahead! Expectedly, a few men passed me along this section and after about 500m we turned into the trails. “This is what I’ve been waiting for,” I cheered inward. The King/Queen of the Mountain challenge! From about 2k until 3.5 was a 700ft climb that was separately timed to deem who the fastest up the mountain. I was rolling through the trails enjoying jumping the roots and stones and navigating the switchbacks. Very shortly the fun and games were replaced with excruciating quad and calf pain as I walked, hands-on-my-quads, up the steep inclines. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one. I followed behind the men who were also walking as fast as they could. Very few were able to run at all. Every time I found a section I thought I could run a few steps, my calfs and low back screamed at me and I bent back over, in hands-on-my-knees fashion. Still in the lead with less then 8 or so men in front of me, I thought, “Well I guess this is just how you do this, you walk the hills and run later.” I did brace myself before hand knowing that I would need to walk during this race, but I never expected to walk for this long. Nearing the end of the Queen of the Hill segment I got my legs back and starting jogging again around the root infested switchbacks. I saw the timing mat at the end of the segment and was happily surprised that I was done that section already.
The next section was great, I was running solo and starting to really move in the trails, along open trails and bridges. This is where I really started to reflect inward. I was feeling so great, on top of the world, leading the race. I thought how thankful I was to be fit enough and strong enough to be able to experience this. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience, while taking in the views that added to the “on top of the world feeling.” I thought back to all the struggles over the years and what had brought me to this point, thankful for “little T” (as I refer to my past self) for sticking with it to allow me to fully pursue my talent. We went in and out of the trails, crossing the mountain top across the grass at points, where we had many scenic viewpoints. At one point we made it to a part of the bruce trail (my fav!) that was a very technical downhill. There were rock stairs everywhere mixed with wooden logged stairs among switchbacks that left me uncontrolled with my speed. I was mindful about not going too slow, but I also didn’t want to bail again, already cut-up from my fall in the trails earlier this week. At the very end of this section (~6k) we reached a metal staircase, bringing us out of the woods.
At this point, Kelly Senk – another female who was a local – came up behind me causing me to start to have to worry about staying in the lead. Shortly after we went up yet
another hill, the male whom I was following turned right so I followed. I lost sight of him for a moment and then shortly after saw him running past me, so I thought, “I guess I go right here and turn around shortly after.” As we ran along and started to pass black arrows instead of the designated blue for the 10k, I started thinking I was going the wrong way. Kelly yelled at me to turn around after we had gone almost 1km the wrong way and we headed back to the point where we had gone off course. I felt bad for taking her the wrong way with me. As I finally made it back on to the proper course (almost 2k extra in my legs) we hit another steep grass uphill. I hated grass uphills, I decided, as I walked as quick as I could upwards. I could see two women in front of me and made a mental note to catch them. I knew I was getting pretty tired and hot, as I had paced for a 10k and gotten myself into longer. I stayed tough, thinking “it happened, so what, now go catch those women and run as hard as you can at this point.” I passed one, then the other as we climbed the hill, walking instead of running yet again.
The top of that grass hill gave way to the 7k aid station where again I was unsure where to go. A volunteer, after about a minute of me looking around, told me to go straight and I found the flags to follow again. Soon after, back into the trails we went. I was running behind a male who seemed like he was having a hard day. I didn’t like his stride, running behind certain people make your legs feel worse, because you can’t match their stride, and this was exactly the case. Around a few switchbacks, I saw another woman. I wasn’t sure I could catch her, mostly because I couldn’t get around this guy. But, soon he pulled off to the side and let me by as he gasped to catch his breath. “Thanks man,” I said, hoping he’d be able to make it okay to the finish. Luckily there was one more short grass section before we hit the final downhill of the race. I was able to catch that woman there and go past her without worrying about tripping. I had absolutely no idea what place I was in now, but I was running as hard as I could, and was proud of my effort regardless. As I found the last kilometer, I discovered that it was STRAIGHT DOWN the mountain. The same way we had climbed up but, longer. Trying to find the right line, I ran from side to side trying to control my speed and feeling my toenails blacken with every stride. I could see the finish and no more women in front to pass, so I just tried to run it safely as fast as I could.
I cross the finish line in second, I would soon find out from Josh. He was not impressed that I had lost, and I explained about my extra 2k fun run in the middle. I wasn’t concerned about the place at all. I had just run a great, fun race, and really put a great effort in to it. I couldn’t think of a race that was harder than I had just run, so many hills and technical sections. At awards, I found out I did win Queen of the Mountain and was so proud that my strength and mileage had allowed me to walk faster than the rest!
It was truly the aftermath that made me so thankful. Not knowing any one from the area, I chatted with other runners post-race that I didn’t know. Everyone so friendly and on a bit of a runner’s high. This is what I love about racing, the community! As I uploaded my run to strava and my pictures to instagram, I received so many positive messages about my strength and ability. So many people, some whom I’ve never met in person, really believe in me and follow my journey. For that, I am thankful. I think that it’s really important to be your true authentic self. I believe, that this is why so many people are drawn to my story, why you are reading this blog right now. I really try to put myself out there and live the in the way that brings me most joy, even if that means sometimes falling short of my goals, always looking to share this journey with others. Today I showed up to the race, confident that I could win; and 5 years ago, there is no way that I would have that much self-confidence. Through hard-work, time, and working on my confidence, I have really found much more success and happiness with running than in the past. I look forward to continuing to push my limits and see what I can truly do. I know I can do big things, and am thankful that I have so many people around me who believe it to. For that, all I can say is thank you. A big thank you to Skechers Performance Canada who has played a huge role in aiding my confidence and success. The pride of wearing their brand with their support behind me, means the world.
“Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.”
Footnote: Try telling this girl that she lost – I think I won, much more than a metal out there that day.