Before you do something for the first time you can think about it, visualize it, train for it, and do everything you can to prepare for it, but until it actually happens, until race day in my case, you actually have no idea what it will be like. Actually even if you are a seasoned veteran runner, every race is different. The weather, the time of day, your health, your hydration, these are all factors that will never be exactly the same every time. That’s part of the fun, the not knowing.
When I signed up for my first trail run at the beginning of this year it was inspired by my lovely coach who also happens to be my dad, Alan! I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I knew that trail running was interesting to me. I absolutely love the outdoors & running! So this was right up my alley.
After my spring half marathon it came time for trail race training, and I quickly realized that trail running is not much of a solo sport, although I love running and nature, I do not love the idea of running through trails on a mountain without anyone with me, for fear of getting lost, getting eaten by a bear, or running out of water etc. Also I am the kind of runner who just loves to run with a group or buddy!
So… to prepare for my first trail adventure I was mostly training at Mount Royal (a small hill located in the center of Montreal), you can’t get lost, it’s got lots of people, no bears, and bathrooms for when needed (major bonus)! I was also going to Riguad (a local ski hill) and hiking/running with my mom on the weekends. I didn’t really do any “real” trail runs at all to prepare. I was definitely well trained on mileage, and on climbing (the stairs on mount royal are NO JOKE), but until I arrived at the start line for my 25km trail in Mount Saint-Anne it never really occurred to me that this was my FIRST legit trail run… ever.
Now let’s talk about the 10 days leading up to the event… after 2.5 years of the pandemic I FINALLY caught c*vid, talk about timing, so this meant no training for me, it also meant constantly testing myself hoping to get that negative result in time for race day. Lucky for me I had a very mild case… and the option of not running my race never really crossed my mind. You work so hard for something like this, I was not going to take no for an answer. Lucky for me I was covid free about 24 hours before the event and I felt back to normal, just nervous because I hadn’t run in 10 days.
Now… Let’s talk about 24 hours BEFORE the start of the race. We were staying in an Air Bnb with some friends who were participating in different events that weekend, some of them the 80KM race and others the 50KM race, among those doing the 50KM were my dad, Alan. These extreme distances were on Saturday (mine was Sunday). They went off in the morning to run, and I had the entire day to myself! I decided to go for a tiny little jog just to get my legs going, 2KM max around the block. After 2KM my legs were cramping and mentally I was panicking, how the hell will I survive my race tomorrow if I cannot run around the block. Naturally I called my husband in tears feeling like I had worked so hard for many months and having had c*vid I was left now in poor shape for my run (this was all in my head and totally false, 10 days wasn’t going to ruin months of training… duh). I pulled myself together after a pep talk, did a little at home spa day including a face mask, watching TV and kicking my feet up for a few hours.
Then after 2 of our friends dropped out of their respective races I met up with them at the mountain to cheer on coaches Alan and Liz as we waited for them to finish their 50KM race. During this time I received a text from my dad when he was at the 42KM mark and said he was very sick, throwing up (heat stroke and dehydration) and planned to walk the rest of the race, AKA he might be a while be he’s on his way. While anxiously waiting for him, coach Liz finished her 50KM super strong, looking fresh and extremely badass (girl POWER). Eventually Alan’s little white hat and red vest appear off in the distance, looking a little worse for wear, walking (with purpose) through to the finish. I was quite emotional to see him finish as I was very worried about him, but also extremely proud of him for not giving up (WARRIOR). Remember he’s my super human dad, king of the trails, so it was so hard to see him struggle like that. Then as soon as he stopped and sat down, things went from bad to worse… he got very pale (like even more than his usual self) and was feeling super unwell. We ended up spending about 2 hours in the medical tent as he tried to keep down some fluids, and get his blood sugar levels back up, and just come back to life (at least enough to go home to bed). I was feeling very fragile at this time, trying to keep good spirits but also low key panicking a little on the inside. There is something about seeing a parent is a bad state that brings you right back into a child mindset.
So to recap, out of the 4 runners who raced on Saturday in the 80KM and 50KM trails only 2 were unable to finish their races, and of those two, one of them (my dad) did not come out of the event looking too hot. So as can be expected I went into my race on Sunday feeling fragile, scared, nervous, and a little bit still in shock from having had to help take care of my dad. Overall the energy leading up to my race that morning was anxious, cautiously optimistic, excited, and basically an emotional wreck.
Before I really had time to process what was going on, I was running, like directly up a fricken mountain surrounded by like 600 other people. The first 7KM of the race was right uphill, in the mud, the trees, the rocks and the beautiful trails. Now this might sound like hell on earth to some, but to me it was HEAVEN. I was able to escape all my worries and just be totally present in the moment, taking it all in. Slow and steady was my motto, just keep moving forward. Inhale strength, exhale weakness. After 8KM I was feeling amazing! The first aid station appeared (ouuuu yeahh), I stopped for a few orange slices, a drink of water, and off I went again. The steepest section of the race was done, I still had like 19km left to go, but I was just taking it one km at a time. It was the next 10km where I had the most AMAZING running experience EVER. I was in such an amazing FLOW, just winding through the trees at a steady pace, it felt like I was flying. I don’t think I even looked at my watch once, it was just smooooooooth sailing. I made 2 friends in this section Kim & Anne-Marie who were running at the same pace as me. They were awesome!
The 18KM aid station came out of nowhere! We stopped for some snacks, a little bathroom break, and some hydration. I was feeling amazing… until I stopped running, then I felt a little pale, like maybe I was going to throw up. I had been drinking really well during the run, and eating lots of snacks, to avoid ending up like Alan. But here I was at 18km feeling like I got punched in the gut. My new friends were waiting for me after a bathroom break, which totally lifted my spirits. I ate some chips and they tasted like the BEST chips I’d ever had in my life, I guess I really needed the salt. After a selfie break we were off again, last stretch. This time not feeling so hot, but mentally reminding myself the worst was over. I had 9km left and luckily I was accompanied by my new friends which totally boosted my morale! After a few kms feeling a little sick the snacks started to kick in, and I started to taste the finish line!
What felt like the longest kms in the world, we started to approach the end of the race… which was not actually 25KM but actually 27KM… trust me those 2KM really do make a difference. The last 5KM were the coolest… we crossed a RIVER (twice actually!), up to our knees, the cold water was AMAZING. Such a fun experience. One of the best parts at this stage in the run was that me and my 2 new friends stuck together, each having supported the others during a moment of need throughout the race. We got to finish the race TOGETHER. This to me is what it is all about, the experience, making connections & having FUN!
But boy, was I glad to see my dad’s face after 27km, waiting for me, I DID IT… we did it. Crossing the finish line was such a special moment! Wow! This must have been the hardest but most fun race I have ever done. I get emotional just thinking about it as I write this blog post! I really put my heart into this event, I pushed through the hard bits and after 4 hours and 15 minutes I was finished!
Trail running is such a beautiful experience, the relaxed mindset when it comes to pace and the determination as you literally climb mountains is just exhilarating, the scenery is a major plus too. I am already excited for my next trail adventure, in March in Moab Utah. Except this time I am taking on a 3 day stage race. Day 1 is about 12km, day 2 is 29km, and day 3 is 12km… stay tuned for updates on training as I prepare for the next one! Happy training friends.
Love Coach Susie xo