Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tuscobia Winter Ultra; a guest blog by Bobbi Nicol



Me at the start of the Tuscobia State trail.
Last year at this time I was running my last race as a man, I did not know it at the time, honestly I look back and I think wow have things ever changed in such a short period of time. That race that I started on January 1st, 2015 was a catalyst to what was to come for me and my little piece of this world.

Running has been such a big part of my life for the last eight plus years that when it was taken away due to a serious injury I went into a bout of depression I have not seen nor experienced in years. My release, both physically and mentally was suddenly gone and I had to deal with emotions and thoughts that I was normally able to keep under control or under wraps so to speak.

On January 1, 2015 I started the Tuscobia 150 mile Winter Ultra in Wisconsin, this race included the requirement to carry a certain amount of safety gear, food stuff, water and extra clothing to keep you safe in case of an emergency. This ultimately means you either carry it on your back or pull it on a sled, I chose the sled. Unfortunately the harness system was too big for my slight frame and I did unknown damage that I will go into more detail about later.

After 65 miles completed I pulled into one of the two aid stations available to the racers to warm up and prep for the next stage, this was Birchwood, Wisconsin. With enduring a very cold night in the backcountry I developed a significant area of frost nip on my nose and with 85 miles to complete I decided I liked my nose more than the satisfaction of finishing one of the craziest races I have ever ran. I DNF’ed at that point and was ok with the decision made. Later I found out how good of a decision that actually was, everything happens for a reason, I truly believe this now as I look back on it.

On the way home from Wisconsin I developed some serious abdominal pain that kept getting worse and worse, enough that I went to Emergency when I made it back to Winnipeg and if you know me I do not like going to the doctor for any reason, let alone hospitals. Apparently the ill-fitting harness did some serious damage to my abdominal muscles, basically shredded them from the repeated pounding from the harness as I ran those 65 miles. This would keep me from running for 5 months, which to me was a lifetime and not having my place of peace to think and sort through things quickened my eventual transformation into who I am today. My next race was the Ottawa Marathon as Bobbi in May, the only race I finished in 2015.

As you can understand my confidence was at an all-time low, I have started some big races in 2015, including the Canadian Death Race and Lost Souls. With my transition and all the changes that were happening to my body and also my emotions I was unable to push myself beyond that point like I used to be able to  and finish them. This was crushing to me, even though I have never been happier, I was finally able to be me, those thoughts that I would never be able to finish that big race again were creeping into my mind. I needed to finish a difficult race and prove to myself that I could still do it and not just finish, but finish strong.

Tuscobia 2016 was that race, with the help of my amazing friend Sue Lucas and her well-fitting harness and sled; I started the 80 miler on Saturday, January 8th. I was nervous and excited and it had been a while since I felt that way, I had a feeling that this was going to be my coming back party. I decided that the 80 miles would be the way to get my confidence back; attempting the 160 miler was in my mind, a few years away. Let’s get this one done, my confidence back and start my year off on a high note. Let me be clear this is not an easy race and the 80 miler is no guarantee in the least. Hauling a 25 to 30 pound sled for 80 miles through the backcountry of Wisconsin with temperatures ranging from -12 F to -40 F is no walk in the park, this was to be my first test and I was not taking it lightly.


My sled, # 54
Thirty-six 80 milers started that morning, a combination of some seriously hardcore male, female and one transgender J runners took up the challenge to run between 22 hours and 31-ish hours to finish the course. The trail started out well packed and groomed and I was off to a good pace as I hit the trail hard. About 5 miles in, the snow started to fall, some amazingly large flakes that added to the resistance of the sled pull but that would not stop me, I bared down and got to work. Temps were holding steady at -12 until the sun went down and then steadily dropped over the next few hours, holding fast in the -20’s until about 2am. This is the scary part about doing these races, the temperatures, it’s so hard to predict what they will drop too and what you will need to have for clothes, this year I took no chances and probably carried an extra 5 lb. of layers that I would not of normally have and I was glad I did. I had everything on by 3 am as the temps dropped to about -40, it was colder than I have ever experienced in a race and I still had about 35 miles to go. It was so cold and I was sweating, shivering and hallucinating, I love this definition: experience a seemingly real perception of something not really present, typically as a result of a mental disorder or of taking drugs….well or running a ultra, lol. 

I was seriously thinking I was seeing the first signs of hypothermia, so I made the rational decision to pull off the trail and get into my winter sleeping bag and bivy (thank you Blake) and try to get my core temperature regulated back to semi-normal again. This took me approximately ninety minutes of huddling on the side of the trail with all types of nasty thoughts going through my head. Was I done again? I could not let this happen, I willed myself to get warm and slowly but surely my core temperature rose and the shivering stopped. The relief I felt was crazy, as I got out of that bag and packed my stuff back into the sled. I was off again with a new found determination to finish this race.

I was coming up on Birchwood, the location that I dropped the previous year and the point that I knew once I passed that this was race was in the bag, this year they did not have a checkpoint here, only one location and it was long gone. But there was an amazing little gas station with a cafĂ© style set up that I decided to stop at and actually use the bathroom instead of freezing my bare bum again. With a quick defrost and a cheeseburger I was once again off on the trail with 17 miles to go, almost home, almost done. I was past Birchwood; this smile was growing across my face, of course being well aware to not be to wide, frozen teeth hurt. I will not lie, the last leg hurt, it hurt a lot, but I kept those legs moving as I got closer and closer to Rice Lake, I pushed along with one running pole, as one broke about mile 40 making my life just that much more difficult as the broken one got a free ride in the sled, lucky bastard. 

I pushed forward and forward and forward some more. Those last miles felt like forever as I moved along, with about 7 miles left I came upon Mike, one amazing runner. Mike is deaf and was running the 80 miler, think about this for a minute, not being able to hear snow mobiles or anything else for that matter and running in the backcountry, totally amazing. Mike and I ran together for the last bunch of miles, really the only person that I ran with the entire way, I like my quiet time and running with someone who is deaf is the perfect situation for me…no chit chat, just running and enjoying.

We pulled into Rice Lake and hit the last leg of the journey, Mike motioned me to run ahead, he wanted me to finish first, what a gentleman, so reluctantly I ran ahead, pulling that sled towards the finish line and my redemption. The finish line was sweet, there were five people out there cheering, you have to remember this is a race when most runners can be hours apart, including Chris (the RD), Scott (a friend from Chicago) and three amazing volunteers. I was never so happy to see that finish line; I was done, both literally and figuratively. After 28 hours and 59 minutes of running and pulling I had finished what I had started. I was elated to say the least, I was back and it felt good.
It felt good to finish this race as I was intended too, knowing I could run an ultra and finish it especially one as nasty as this one brought such joy to me, I could not even attempt to describe it. So whatever you do, don’t settle, be strong, be resilient. Work hard and don’t give up…be proud of all your accomplishments…you earned them.
A footnote, 20 runners finished the 80 miles of those 36 starters, I finished 13th overall and 3rd female (although with my transgender status I would not take the placing and would of passed it to the next female finisher if it was offered), I was so happy with my finish and results, tickled pink actually.


Still smiling at mile 35.
What you look like after finishing 85 miles in almost 29 hours.
Happy!
It's a good day to be alive.

Bobbi



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