Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hecla Half Marathon Race Report by Andrea Richardson Lipon

Thanks very much to Andrea Richardson Lipon for submitting this race report of the inaugural Hecla Island Half-marathon.  It sure sounds like a successful event!  

It's a good day to be alive.


Andrea Richardson Lipon
The Hecla half marathon was the first of my back to back half marathons.  I questioned myself; does this make me full on crazy?  No one really needs to answer that. 

The Hecla half marathon was the largest running race in the Interlake and the first time the race was “run”.  Right from the beginning, the correspondence from the race director to the participants was great.  Race pick-up from available in the city or on Friday or Saturday, it was all seamless.

The race course was an out and back and just gorgeous.  I had never been to Hecla before and I was amazed by the beauty.  It made the feeling of lungs burning that much more enjoyable.  The course was nicely marked, you really couldn’t get lost.  😉

There were just the right amount of aid stations and porta-potties.  Coming from someone with a defunct colon, porta-potty placement is key!

There was a part that was around the lake possibly around mile 5-6 and it literally felt like it was uphill both ways.  It was a great challenge, but once again surrounded by beauty!

The “trail” part of the race was the last 2km.  This was the fun part!  There was this part where it was loose stones…..not even gravel…… and it was so close to the end.  I remember thinking….. “I don’t have time for this in my life”……hahaha meant lovingly of course……..we were warned about this last part before the race started.  But still, who really listens to that?

It was a great race, a great venue and the organization and the volunteers were top notch!  They did run out of wine, but we were warned about that before the race started.  I mean how can you go wrong?  Free wine. Free Massage.  And great food……..and surrounded by beauty.  I can’t wait to see how they build upon this for next year!

Race Report by Andrea Richardson Lipon

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Half Marathon 2016 Race Report

Running happy at mile 7-ish with Jeannine.
Photo credit Fern Berard
"Good-morning, and welcome to race day..." the 5:00 AM cheery email from our much loved race director Jonathan Torchia.  I smiled through groggy eyes and thought "does this man ever sleep?" and stepped into the hot shower.

Life is complicated.  Running is simple.

The 5th annual WFPS half marathon (5km 10km) has set a new standard for Winnipeg road races. Jonathan and crew ditched the old blueprints and built a race from the ground up. This race, this event, this spectacular happening, helped make today a memory.

A memory of smiles and cheers, and sweat and humanity.  A memory of laughter and camaraderie. A memory of tears and hurt, and pain, and happiness.  A memory of success and disappointment. A memory of hot coffee and Johnny Sticky buns. A memory of Ted Swain, Joanne Schiewe, and Barry Gordon. A memory of port-a-potty (knees held tight) line-ups. A memory of all things beautiful, all people moving, all people running. A memory positive energy within in a misogynistic era of Trump hatefulness.

Thanks be to this memory of positive energy.

This memory will sustain us as we travel through this cataclysmic time event called life.

Some whine and complain and follow a path of desolation while we run and hoot and holler.

We are the lucky ones.

Life is complicated, running is simple.

I'm sorry for being so rosy and all-blush. I've been accused of going through life with rose coloured glasses many times and admittedly it's curse and a weakness. However, I've come to understand in my 6th decade that it is a virtue and a strength.

I had the distinct honour of pacing the 2 hour group with my friend Paul. Paul ran with 10/1 walk breaks and I paced the 2 hour continuous run. We were simply magical in out timing. I passed him on his walk breaks and he passed me moments later. This leap frog continued 13 times to the finish line. We accommodated the diversity of the group and we crossed the finish line within seconds of one another.  There is no first, there is only together.

Life is complicated, running is simple.
Two of my favourite runners, Connie and Darcie (aka Death Star).
Photo credit Facebook image
There were a number of amazing water stations but mile 8 and 12 stand out for their sheer energy. The volunteers were completely extraordinary.  The noise and smiles and cheers were intoxicating and flooded the brain with oxygen and endorphins. We surge forward on fresh legs with strength and fluidity (is that a word?).

Life is complicated.  Running is simple.

Junel Malapad and See Mike Run
photos credit Junel selfie
My friends sustain me and give meaning to life.  Junel, ever present with a camera and warmth, snaps a quick selfie  and captures a sliver of life... like water through our hands, a sliver of life.... all gone but the memory.

"I do not want to See Mike Run" says a pesky Tim and then adds with a wink, "for the best running friend ever" and we laugh as children at recess.

A stranger, a young woman, ran by my side for 13.1 miles depending on me to deliver a sub-two hour pace.  We soared over the magic line at 1:59:44. We hugged at the finish line as old friends, and yet I do not know her name.  A man my age sought me out and thanked me for my pace and we hugged as brothers.  The countless high-fives and hugs, and smiles make me whole.

Life is complicated.  Running is simple.

Let me tell you a secret, but don't tell Jonathan.  Four years ago I received a phone call from Jonathan.  He told me that, due to logistics, he had to change the date of the WFPS to the same weekend as Ted's Run for Literacy. He apologized profusely and was genuinely concerned how this conflict would impact TRL.  He cared enough to call and discuss options and offer solutions when many would not have extended the same courtesy.  I respected his integrity and sincerity then as I do now.  Ted's Run for Literacy is a teeny event compared to the WFPS and yet he was concerned with our bottom line.  That my friends is the definition of integrity.

So my friends, be it known how I love you all.  You bring me joy. You make me whole. You are my people.

Next time our paths cross yell out "I do not want to See Mike Run" and I will laugh.

It's a good day to be alive.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Trail Run Manitoba, Lemming Loop, Race Report

See Mike Run
Beaudry Park, Lemming Loop Ultra-marathon
photo credit Maria Purificacion
All days are good for running, some are just better than others. Such was the October 1st Lemming Loop ultra-marathon hosted by the good folks of Trail Run Manitoba.  Runners race against the clock on a looped trail in their choice of a 3, 6, 12, or 24 hour event.  Each loop measures precisely 5.7 km with a single aid station at the start/finish line. As runners reach the end of their their time they are directed on to a 1 km short course so they're not stuck in the middle of the forest when the bear banger signals 'time's up'. Simple math determines your distance: i.e. (number of laps) x 5.7 km + (number of short laps) = total distance.  Life is complicated, running is simple.

After a two year hiatus due to flooding of the Assiniboine River, the 6th annual Lemming Loop returned home to the gorgeous Beaudry Park, 35 minutes from Portage and Main. The land is low and thick with mature oak trees.  Beaudry, a jewel in its own right, is comfortably nestled within a large u-shaped bend in the meandering Assiniboine River. The trails are mostly dual track with the occasional dip and rise just enough to make it interesting. Street runners quickly learn the meaning of 'be nimble' and watch for roots, rocks and other tripping hazards.  I took a nasty tumble at mile 18 and had several stumbles especially in the latter stages as my body fatigued and I lost concentration.

It is always an honour to share the trail with the humble Bert Blackbird, the joyful Sue Lucas, the infectiously positive Junal Malapad, and the other trail legends whose presence grace this magical forest. It's equally gratifying to run alongside Leaslie McPhail, Mandi Jacobson, Brenda, and Eddie Marion-Gerula.  This latter group may not have the stamina and speed of the former, yet they are tough as nails and do our community proud. Our community, whether trail or street, 10 km or ultra-marathon, is inclusive and kind and we care deeply about one another.

I thank Dwayne Sandall for his dedication to this community and for making our lives just a little better, one step at a time.  The volunteers, far too numerous to mention, are simply priceless.  The likes of Carrie Howell and her twin sister ;) Jo Holmes epitomize the volunteer spirit, cheerful, helpful, knowledgable, a little crazy (okay, a lot crazy) and all around beautiful characters.

It wouldn't be a race report without one tiny suggestion so here goes.  I didn't carry water preferring to rely on the aid station. In reflection, this was probably an error on my part and I paid for it near the end. It would have been helpful for me, and I expect others, to have an unattended water drop at the skier's hut.  My first several laps timed in at about 25 minutes while the last one was a whopping 48 minutes, a long time between water.

As winter approaches.  As days grow shorter. As I grow older. As life moves relentlessly forward, I have memories.

Memory of trails. 
Memory of tall oaks. 
Memory of blue skies. 
Memory of musty leaves. 
Memory of twisting rivers. 
Memory of running. 
Memory of smiles. 
Memory of kindness.

Thank you all for these sweet memories.

Remember also, it's a good day to be alive.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ted's Run for Literacy 2016, Race Director's Report

Ted's Run for Literacy supports children living in poverty. Our vision is to  "...break the cycle of childhood poverty by supporting environments in which children flourish socially, mentally and physically." We believe children cannot learn or socialize unless:

  1. their basic needs are met (i.e. food, water, shelter) 
  2. they feel safe and secure (i.e. a home free of violence and unpredictability), 
  3. they feel they belong and are valued for who they are (i.e. they are loved)
We believe in Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory which says children (and adults) will not reach their potential unless needs (represented in the graphic below) are sequentially met.  If you're reading this, chances are good your physiological needs, safety needs, and belonging needs were met in early childhood development.  Congratulations, you can read, you are successful, you have a loving, secure family. You do not live in poverty.

Please understand, many do not.

In our six years Ted's Run for Literacy has raised between $35,000 and $40,00 to support children living in poverty, and we are gratified, and we are humbled. It is an audacious dream, an impossible dream to eliminate the cycle of childhood poverty, yet our board believes in the impossible. We invite you to join our dream, to support us, to run with us, to laugh with us, to believe it is a good day to be alive, and to share this dream with your children.  We are the little race that could and with your continued support we will become the little race that eliminated the cycle of childhood poverty.

Jo at TRL circa 2013. me clapping way in the background. 
I believe Jo watched over us on Sunday. Her physical presence was absent and yet her spirit smiled warmly upon all.  I still can't believe she's gone, but I'm stuck in denial like many of you. Our committee debated how best to acknowledge Jo. Someone suggested a 'moment of silence'. We paused and then laughed because all that know Jo understand 'silence' was not Jo's strong point.

Running with Jo was like running with the best 'talk radio' you can imagine. Gossip, opinions, last night's party, food, boyfriends, dreams, fears, laughs.. all delivered in staccato rapid fire.  Jo was like that... fun, irreverent, honest, and loyal.

Instead of silence we had a 'moment of noise' and it was spectacularly powerful. We yelled loudly. We screamed and we jumped. We laughed and we shouted and it went on and on and on. We honoured Jo with noise and movement and I believe she laughed heartily... and we cried.

While hanging banners at 6AM  I banged my head on an (expletive) overhang and it hurt like (expletive). I was alone and it was dark so I continued working thinking 'suck it up buttercup'. I had no idea of the blood pooling on my XXL forehead. A friend arrived and asked what happened to my head. Not fully realizing the wound, I removed my hat, breaking the congealed scab and the blood gushed.

I realized later I was saved from a much more serious wound by the Jo button.  Jo took the brunt of the force and left me with just enough to remind me that I'm alive. She saved me and reminds me of my mortality.  We exist moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day. Jo's death sucks yup, and yet she laughs at us, and clucks her tongue in defiance of death. Yeah, Jo's like that, crazy and noisy and gorgeous, and brilliant, and sweet, and irreverent, and she tells a good story.

Had it not been for the Jo Button I would have visited emergency for 4 or 6 stitches. She said... "careful Bennett, you could be next" and laughed.

So my friends, our little TRL 10 km (5km and 2 km) event is not the biggest event in town,  but we are without a doubt, the event with the most heart.  We believe in audacity. We believe in a world without childhood poverty.

Join us.

It is a good day to be alive, right Jo?


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Winnipeg 10 & 10: A Volunteer's Perspective

Ted's Run for Literacy Water Station
We all need to pause this afternoon and raise a pint to race director Chris Walton and his happy crew. This year's Winnipeg 10 & 10 was an outstanding event made all the better by the extraordinarily positive army of volunteers. The coordination along the 30 km course is extremely challenging and not for the faint of heart.  The communication between the Race Director and the City, 600+ runners, hundreds of volunteers, medics, police, and aid stations is simply staggering. Well done Chris Walton. Well done Winnipeg.

As Race Director of a much smaller event, but equal in heart, Ted's Run for Literacy, I understand what happens behind the scenes.  The weeks and days leading up to the event snowball. Issues become increasingly urgent as race day approaches. Volunteers become stretched and your phone never stops buzzing and beeping. Glitches are solved as fast as they are created. Race Day is run on fraught nerves and caffeine.  The RD needs to be cool headed, calm, and in charge.  RDs never let them see the sweat.  A successful event is one that seemingly unfolds organically and simply, as though anyone could do it. .  The 10 & 10 is one such event.

At the very last minute parking at Great West Life was cancelled causing a mad scramble just before gun time.  My inside source says Great West Life gave their approval in the days leading up to the event and then revoked it last minute.  I'm sure there is a good reason for the about face, I just can't imagine what it could be?

See Mike Run has written dozens of race reports from the runner's perspective.  This is the first from a volunteer's perspective.  Ted's Run for Literacy was given the privilege to host a water station at the 5 km turnaround point.  This particular water station is busier than most as we serve all runners from the 5 km to 30 km. Literally, all 600+ runners streamed twice past our station.  In practical terms, we served 1200 runners.  

Yes there were glitches.  We ran out of cups and about a dozen runners went thirsty for which we feel terrible. This glitch was fixed very quickly. About eight runners asked for Gatorade and were disappointed when they were told "Sorry, no Gatorade".  This glitch too will be resolved  next year as it has been communicated to race officials and they seemed earnestly concerned and expressed an interest to improve.  

Our water station was the best... sorry all you other wanna-bee water stations.  Our water was the freshest, coldest, and many said their IQ bumped up a minimum of 10 points after one sip!  All runners who drank from the cup of Literacy had an urge to break out a book and read.  Our crew was the funniest, the prettiest, the most active, and definitely the smartest! Now I recognize these are fightin' words and good ole fashion trash talk, but bring it on.  TRL water station won first place. We were a WATER station, the others were water-ish places where there might be someone awake to serve you a glass of luke warm cloudy water-like liquid.

If Ted's Run for Literacy wasn't volunteering at the 10&10 they were running the 10&10. Our Carly ran the 30 km and at 2 km from the finish she looked fresh as a daisy.  Our Darcie crushed the 10 miler and then returned to help out at the TRL water station.   Sadly, our Tim is injured and had to sit this one out.  Pop-up maestro Aldo was a team captain for the back 40 part of the course and, as usual, accomplished the impossible.

If you are a runner, please consider giving back and volunteering at an event.  The view from the other side is as satisfying as the runner's perspective.  If you're a runner with a complaint, don't take it out on a volunteer, they are there to help make you successful.   

Two final truths:
  1. I will hoist a pint to Chris Walton this afternoon.
  2. Ted's Run for Literacy water station was absolutely brilliant and blew the other teams out of the .... umm, water!
Until next time, it's a god day to be alive.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Lean Horse Ultra 2016, Race Report

and your beautiful thing
will be
a beautiful thing
to me
a beautiful thing
your beautiful thing

a beautiful thing, Tragically Hip
Lean Hose Ultra ... for Jo... a beautiful thing, continuing...always

Notes from the Race Director's meeting the night before Lean Horse...
  • Don't worry too much about mountain lions. They usually stay higher up in the mountains.
  • It's been cool lately so rattlers shouldn't be a problem.
  • If you come across a bear, hold your ground, make a lot of noise, and make yourself big (thought bubbles..."Big" I think "how big can a 5'4" guy get?! I can stretch it to 5'6"... hmmm, how tall is a bear anyway?")
I know my friend David Fielder will ask "What did I learn" so I'll address this first. I learned without goals we tend to drift from one dream to another never accomplishing anything of substance. I learned through pain and struggle we experience truth and wisdom.  I learned the only way to move forward is one step at a time and sometimes we stumble. I learned our time here is limited so live every moment as though it were your last. I learned that passion is difficult to explain.

I ran a 50 km ultramarathon, a baby ultra compared to the 50 and 100 miler ultra runners, but still an ultra.  My time was a little under 6 hours which isn't too bad considering I was hoping for a sub 7 hour. I've crossed many finish lines and they are all sweet and unique in their own right, but this, The Lean Horse Ultra, is etched in my mind. I ran it with heart and soul.  I ran it with my friend Jo in mind.  I ran it with strength and determination.

I have no story to tell. It's a passion that you get or you don't get.  Those that share this passion understand and they fill in the spaces with their own experiences, their own tears, success, and failures. The happiness I felt is simply beyond explanation. The afterglow of this event is lifelong. The pride and confidence gained is immeasurable. 

I know it's madness, but I was touched by Jo on the most difficult segment; a climb... ten miles up, endlessly up to Crazy Horse.  She did not talk to me, but I felt her presence and the warmth of her beautiful smile.  It helped me climb, tapping the button three times. I know she'd be mad with me for being sappy, but really, she was there, and it meant so much. Her presence spoke "you got this Mike, it's a good day to be alive, now do it". 

My proudest moment happened a week after the event over beers and barbeque when my son Max wrote on social media..

Super proud of my dad for getting first place in the Lean Horse 50 km race in the 50-59 age category. For those not in the know, a full marathon is a mere 42.2 km so 50 km is classified as both an 'ultra marathon' and an absolute descent into madness.

and then posted this picture...

...absolute descent into madness...
photo credit Max Bennett
Ace Burpee wrote so accurately and eloquently of the depth and breadth of Jo's life in an article in The Winnipeg Free Press. Ace writes:

She will forever inspire, not just myself, but the countless other lives she touched, inspiring people to work harder, dig deeper, and more important have more fun than anyone else on Earth while doing it.  
To end, I return to David Fielder's question: What did I learn?  

David, I suggest Ace says it best and he speaks for the multitudes of runners, triathletes Ironmen, men in pink spandex, regular dudes and dudettes, heros and zeros.  Together, collectively, and individually, we learned...

Go outside and get it. Show her what you learned.

It's a good day to be alive my friends. Now go outside and get it.


"Go outside and get it"
photo credit Jennifer Kirkwood

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Training for Lean Horse (part four)

My training is finished. I've lost too much weight and my left knee flares up every couple of miles. My quads are tight and my calves tingle. My body is suitably exhausted and my mind is comfortably numb (insert joke here).  I fear the heat and the possibility of injury is worrisome.  My shoes are shot, my shirt stinks, and my shorts are worn thin. My race food is simplified to Pringles (white carbs and salt) and Jujubes... sad.  My race-beard is scruffy and itching like crazy. This week's plan is all about walking, resting, and pasta... although Scott's recommendation of lots of craft beer and ice-cream seems sensible. ;)

I'm done like dinner.

The last three weeks I ran 70 miles, then 60, and then 50... the taper has begun.

I have a new secret weapon. I call it the Jo button.  When you're flagging, when you're exhausted and think you can't go another step, when your knee hurts, when your quads are tight like a piano string, when you're dehydrated and feeling nauseous....just tap the Jo button three times.

I called upon the Jo button every other mile on my 21 mile run on Sunday.

The hurt doesn't go away... it still sucks... but it puts in into perspective.  Tapping the Jo button draws on my inner Jo. It draws on my strength and fierce determination.  Tapping the Jo button reminds me of this incredible woman who has become the voice for Glioblastoma brain cancer.  Tapping the Jo button doesn't make the pain go away, but it does make it seem insignificant, almost irrelevant.

Joanne's in palliative care now.

On Saturday I run Lean Horse Ultra.

Every step a thought of Jo.

My friends, it is difficult to end this way, but it has become customary on See Mike Run, and I know Jo would be pissed off if it were omitted, so, I say to you, with a heavy heart...

It's a good day to be alive...

that and 'f*ck cancer'.


Jo at Ted's Run for Literacy
(photo credit Fern Berard)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Jo" Button Campaign

Jo cuts a wide swath when it comes to friendships.

Brian Schiewe

500 buttons of love
Jo was given 18 months to live. She's now in double overtime and fighting for every hour.  Jo now requires around the clock support. Her friends and family have rallied behind her and wrap her in a blanket of love and warmth. Glioblastoma brain cancer has robbed Joanne of her voice and stripped her physical strength, but her dignity, her beauty, and unstoppable tenacity remain intact.

There are no survivors of Glioblastoma and Jo is in double overtime.

To date Jo has raised well over $80,000 for brain cancer research in Manitoba. She is an Ironman, a marathoner, a triathlete, a Manitoba Runners' Association Hall of Fame inductee, and a five year Board member for Ted's Run for Literacy. She is all that and so much more.

We do not love Joanne for her success, although they are plentiful and admirable. We love her goodness. We love her moxie. We love the sound of her mile-a-minute conversation.  We love her laughter. We love her larger-than-life character. We love her lightning-fast wit. We love her gift of gab. We love Jo for the way she makes us feel important and valued. We love her inspiration. We love her tenacity.

We love her countlessly,



We love Jo because she has come to represent our own mortality and that is unsettling.

Ted's Run for Literacy has started a "Jo" button campaign.  A $5.00 (minimum) donation will buy you a button.  Proceeds will be donated to Brain Cancer Research in Manitoba, Canada. Contact teds or message any TRL Board member for information on how to get your button. Buttons are also available at the Kenaston Running Room and City Park Runners in Winnipeg.

Sometimes there are no words to express how we feel. Sometimes all we can do is hold a hand, hug a loved one, or in Jo's case, wear a button. Sometimes that's all we can do.

It's a good day to be alive... show it by wearing your button.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Canadian Death Race 2016; Guest blog by Melissa Budd

While the rain, water washes away who you are
We go over the mountains and under the stars
We go over the mountains and under the stars

Ruben and the Dark, Bow and Arrow
Melissa Budd Canadian Death Race 2016 
My friend David always jokes about getting a DFL (Dead F**king Last) someday.  He figures it is just as hard to come in first as it does to come in last.  While I question his logic on this one, I knew it was certainly a position that I never wanted to be in.  My perspective changed Death Race Weekend in Grande Cache.

This was my first time running CDR.  For a prairie dweller like me, I had some reservations about the elevation, but I was confident I could do the distance.  My friends, David, Bert and Shane had already done this race and were very helpful in their advice.  Bert had offered to run with me which put my mind a little more at ease.  David’s friend James and Bert’s girlfriend Rosario would crew for us.  Perfect!
 The Start

The morning was beautiful.  Cool temperatures, cloudy but not ominous.  The only electricity apparent was that of excitement in the air.  Bert and I started conservatively and leg one flew by.  We came in faster than I had anticipated.  With a quick change of shoes, a Coke and a sandwich, we were off for leg 2.  Leg 2 consisted of 28 km and 2 mountain summits and lots of downhill running.  This was my favourite part of the race.   I felt like a kid running down those hills.  To add to the fun, there was this beautiful lab mix dog that would either be running ahead, beside or behind us looking like he was having more fun than us.

We finished leg 2 in good shape.  Now we just had to get through leg 3 before the 7:00pm cut off.  I was happy when we did with time to spare.  The Race Direstor said that getting to the 7:00 cut off was the key to finishing this race.  I picked up my rain jacket, hat, gloves, head lamp and tied a zip up sweater around my waist.  On to Hamel. 

Bert Blackbird, Melissa Budd and ?

Hamel - Leg 4

 The ascent up Hamel is a grind.  Almost 7000m of elevation - all right away.   I’m not a fast climber but Bert and I kept it steady as we climbed.  Up, up, up- it seemed like it would never end.  Bert reassured me we were doing fine and we would get there if we kept it up.  I remarked how we lucked out with the weather being so great.  Almost immediately I realized I spoke too soon as it started to rain.  It got worse as we continued to climb.  The winds picked up, thunder rattled us and lightning shot across the sky.  I stopped to put on my rain jacket but left the zip up tied around my waist because I wasn’t cold yet.  The temperatures seemed to suddenly drop.  

As the rain pounded harder I noticed that it was turning to sleet.  It was snowing on the mountain?  We reached the emergency drop out station.  It was before the cut off but there was no one there to check us in.  Bert got worried that they moved the cut off to the top of Hamel.  Now we had to be on top by 10:15?  Hurry, hurry, hurry!  The weather conditions continued to deteriorate.  We got to the top by 9:40.  By then it was almost white out conditions.  The visibility was so poor, I couldn’t tell we were on top of a mountain and could only see people when they were within a few metres of us.  We had to get down, as fast as we could.  

We passed a girl crying, “sorry, sorry I’m just too cold”.  I remember her looking so strong as she passed me on the ascent.  My fingers felt like blocks of ice as I wiggled them to keep the feeling in them.  Bert and I made our way down.  The “easy” downhill was now wet and incredibly slippery with large pond like water filled mud holes every few 100 metres.  Quads were going up and down the descent shuttling people off the mountain.  They would stop and ask if we wanted a ride and if we were okay.  We said we were fine and continued.  Our conversation became limited to me saying, “I’m cold Bird” and he would reply back “I’m cold too”.  I no longer felt the pressure of time cut offs as I was now concerned with fighting down that mountain without shutting down.  I untied my zip up and put that soaking thing around my shoulders.  It seemed to help but I wished I had put it on under my rain jacket when it was dry - but that was hours ago. 

More quads came and each time they would ask if they could take us down - No - and then they would ask how I was doing.  At one point Bert stopped me and said, “ don’t talk to them, you don’t sound right, next time let me do the talking, they are going to pull you from the course”.  I nodded.  There was no way I was going to get pulled now, we had come so far and we were still moving.  We were getting down the mountain together and I took strength in that. 


Ambler Loop

We were getting close to Ambler loop and it seemed the worst was over.  But then, unexpectedly as I made my way around the largest of the mud holes my foot slipped and I went all the way into the water.  I was stunned.  Up to my neck in cold mucky water.  Bert said I cried, “no, no, no” as I went down.  Bert and another guy (which I had no recollection that we were running with) helped me out.  It was awful.  I was completely soaked, although I didn’t feel any colder, which was odd.  Moments later we arrived at the aid station.  We timed in and went directly to the warming tent.  

The volunteers were excellent.  Lots of blankets, a seat right by the heater, a cup of soup in my shaking hands.  I looked around the tent and saw the zombie like faces of many runners trying to warm up.  No one was talking.  It looked like a war zone.  I wasn’t getting much warmer sitting there.  I didn’t know where Bert went, but he suddenly appeared and said there were a few trucks that were sitting outside that were warmer.  I got up (with help) and got into a truck.  Instantly warmer. It felt good.  I sat there for a few minutes and then Bert came to the window and said, “this truck is going back, there is another truck that is staying, which one do you want to be in?” Not this one!  So we made out way into the other truck.  

We both got into the back seat.  In the front of the truck in the passenger seat was Mark.  We introduced ourselves.  He knew of us because, until recently, he lived in Winnipeg.  I think he saw what condition I was in and immediately went into help mode.  “Are your clothes wet under your jacket? Yes? Strip down to your bra and put this foil blanket around you and let your shirt dry on the seat.  Have you eaten? No? Have some gatorade.  Do you need gravol? No?  Okay, warm up.”  I started to warm up.  Bert was getting nervous about the time cut offs and my ability to continue.  He asked if I was ready to go, I said that I wasn’t ready.  I was still frozen.  He looked me in the face and said, “okay, I’m going to do the 5 km loop and come back to the truck to see what you want to do”.  Okay - Bert was off.

Bert Blackbird, David Fielder, Melissa Budd

The Plan

Mark and I talked as I warmed up a little more.  He asked if I was going to quit.  I said, “I don’t want to quit”.  He said, “ Well how about you and me go, we will do the loop and see how that goes”.  I was silent.  He said, “well if you are not going then I’m not going” with a smile.  That, for some reason, made that spark that was still fighting to burn get stronger.


 Go Time

“Okay” I said as I got some more strength back.  I put my tank top back on and my shoes.  I found a garbage bag in the back seat and made holes for my head and arms.  I put that on and then put on my rain jacket.  I pulled the solar blanket around my shoulders.  Mark was itching to get out and said, “Now?”.  I said, “just give me 5 more minutes”.  I came to regret that later.  Nevertheless we got out of the truck.  Bert was just finishing his 5km loop.  He came up to us and looked.  I said, “We are going to go.”  He aid, “That’s it Buddster” and something else about being tough.  I told Bert to tell my crew to hold on….I was on my way.   Bert headed one way to the next aid station and Mark and I headed the other way to the 5 km loop.

 It was great for the first half of the loop, dryer ground, downhill, legs moving good.  I was happy I had made the decision to switch to the truck that was staying.  I was grateful that Bert and I made it off the mountain and I knew he would finish.  I was lucky that I got into the truck with Mark, someone who wanted to do this as much as I did, maybe even more.  We were the last two people on the course….DFL….  That didn’t matter, we still had a fighting chance and we  both were taking that chance.  There is something to be said about going through hell with company - so much better and stronger than going at it alone.  Mark assured me that we would get to the aid station before 4:15.  Damn cut offs, I felt like I was chasing them all day!  As we came running down Beaver Dam Road a van pulled up beside me.  It was James and David!  I was so happy to see them!  They asked if I needed a ride.  I said, “no way!”  Then I congratulated David on finishing, to my surprise he said “no, I chose not to go on after Hamel, I had no dry clothes, I’m done.”  I apologized and immediately felt bad.  David was having such a good race.  David was great and made me feel good that I was still out there.  I asked,”How far?”  About 4 km.  Mark was ahead of me, so I kept running as David and James took off to the next aid station.

Along the ditch road, I was alone.  Mark was up ahead and I knew we would be there soon.  All of a sudden some lights shone at the back of me.  A quad came up behind me and started trailing me.  I thought wow…I’m DFL… what a lucky place to be!  I was hanging on by a thread, but still hanging on!  Finally, at 4:06 I reached the almost empty aid station.  Did I make it? Did I make it?  Yes! Yes!  Mark had already been there for awhile and was ready to go.  I grabbed my hydration pack and 2 quesadillas from Rosario.  No time to sit down, no time for soup - less than 2 hours to reach the boat?  Time stops for no one and it certainly was ticking down for me. 

Leg 5

Leg 5 started with a steep uphill (of course).  Single track, bush covered, up and down in the dark, hell……is there anything easy past leg 3?  Mark pushed us along.  I felt bad.  He seemed to have so much energy and I was plugging along.  Was I holding him up too much?  He offered me caffeine pills- I took them.  He offered me his poles - I took them.  Anything to help move faster.  We continued on.  Every time I asked him if he thought we were going to make it, he’d say “Yes - but we have to keep pushing”.  Up and down I struggled.  Mark was a constant.  I was surprised he hadn’t left me.  I knew how much he wanted this finish and I was dead weight.  Yet Mark was so encouraging.  I was on the edge of telling him to go on without me, it was getting light and I would find my way when we heard a loud crack in the forest.  A bear!  

Mark quickly backtracked to me - grabbed the poles and started to clack them.  He started to talk loudly and calmly and encouraged me to do the same.  The bear took off but then abruptly stopped.  We continued on clacking and talking loudly until we were far enough away to feel comfortable.  Mark never asked to leave and I never told him to leave - but I could feel us getting close.  I asked him for the last time, “do you think we’ll make it?” and for the first time he said, “I’m not sure”.  That sealed it for me.  I said, “Go Mark, go as fast as you can, run to the boat!”   Without a word, he took off like a shot.  We were so close.  I hoped I hadn’t let him go too late.  If I couldn’t make the boat, I wanted him to.  I came down the steps to the aid station and saw Mark running back from going the wrong direction down the road.  No!  But he he was on his way back to the boat.  As I was coming down the final hill I heard the engine of the boat and saw it on its way to the other side.  Yes!!  Mark is on the boat!!  Now, would it come back for me? 

The Boat

I made my way down and got there a few minutes after Mark.  I approached the edge of the blue white Sulphur river and stopped.  “You missed the last boat” someone said.  I stood motionless.  I didn’t argue….I didn’t do anything except lean over Mark’s poles.  My head dropped.  Tears that I wasn’t strong enough to keep in came out.  I tried not to sob but some of them came out.  Around me, volunteers started to take down the tent.  I didn’t think to take out my timing chip and insert it so at least I’d have a time for the distance I completed.  I felt lost.  Over — it was over.  I was one river crossing and 15 km away from the finish with almost 2 hours left.  What I wouldn’t give at that moment to be Dead F**king Last.  I don’t know how long I stood there until I got asked if I needed a ride back to town.  Yes…I guess I would.  Someone opened up the back door to a sturdy looking truck and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a seat with a rather large dog.  I said that I didn’t mind as long as he was okay with it.  My feelings alternated between feeling numb and feeling a horrible rawness.  I let out a few more sobs and then the big dog, perhaps understanding more than I thought he did, put his big head on my lap.  That calmed me. 


We made it back to town and found James and David.  We got into the van and sat for awhile.  The clock was still counting.  I saw Bert finish, just after 23 hours.  He came over after hugging Rosario.  It was so good to see him finish but it was so hard.  I felt like I let him down.  I kept saying, “I’m sorry Birdie…I missed the boat”  He said he knew, but he was proud of how I handled myself.  We stayed for awhile but unfortunately missed Mark’s big finish.  He finished with 15-20 minutes to spare. 

The next morning the awards ceremony was difficult.  I was happy for the finishers but watching them and watching the video hurt badly.  At least I was only tearing up and not truly crying. 

The Cost

As I sit here and write this I’ve had some time to reflect on the race.  The cost of missing the boat?  Huge!  It cost me a finish, my coin and the feeling of completion.  6 minutes…360 seconds…  There were so many times I squandered minutes.  Telling Mark “5 more minutes” until I got out of the truck…why didn’t I just go?  I suppose if I focused on only that, this whole thing would be a failure.  But there were so many things I gained.  What would it have cost if I had the perfect race?  A race where nothing went wrong?  I would not have met and had the honour of running with these great people.  It would have cost my experience, my bonds with the people I went through hell with.  It would have been nice to come out of this with a finisher coin and a forever internet time - but maybe this will make me come back and try again.  It hurts to come up short.  It takes time for that hurt to heal.  But that doesn’t mean it is over.  At least not for me. 

With thanks to Melissa Budd, my friend, my inspiration, my awe....

It's a good day to be alive.