This all started back in April, when a friend told me about a new trail running ultra marathon, called Meet Your Maker. It was to happen up in Whistler: 86km long, and 3750m up and down. I had never entertained the idea of running that far, but when i took at look at the course, there was no way i could pass on giving it a try. Lost lake, Comfortably Numb, Blackcomb, P2P, Whistler, Rainbow… you get the idea. I immediately registered, then put it in the back of my brain. I had a few mtb races and a few triathlons to take care of first, before i could worry about an 86km running race.
July rolls along, and it’s finally time to log some big trail runs. Thankfully, my buddy Will is a sucker for punishment too, and he accompanied me for several of my long(ish) trail runs. Knowing that i respond well to hard efforts, I still managed to put in a fair bit quality too. That’s kind of how things started to head off track though. I had a really solid base built up, and i was feeling like a champ on the trails by early August. I did a trail half marathon in Squamish (August 11th), and despite having a nutritional meltdown, i had a promising 2nd place showing. Why would i then want to take a day off (or 2)? Better to do a three hour hard hill run the next day, then a hard ride the next day, etc…and dig myself into a DEEP hole.
With three weeks to go to MYM, i was screwed. Broken down and tired, i did my best for the next two weeks to ease my body back to health. Thankfully, by Thursday of last week i started to feel some pep back in my legs. I hammered a short quality workout on Friday, pretty much just to get my confidence back, and on Saturday we headed up to Whistler. The only real issue on my brain now was that my longest run, ever, was 42km.
I’ll jump right to the meat of the action here: 6am start, and the first leg was pretty much a warm up. The second leg was the famous Comfortably Numb trail, back to Base 2 of Blackcomb. After the first aid station (10.6km), Mark Bennett, Phil Villeneuve, and myself were out front racing for the top spots. The three of us ran together, at a comfortable pace, all the way to Blackcomb. The only issue that popped up was my shoe choice. You see, i went against all common sense and wore a pair of shoes that i had only worn once before (my previous go-to shoes had been causing me blisters, and i didn’t think i could survive in them). My proprioception was a bit off, and i was catching my toes a lot. I hit the ground eight times on Comfortably Numb. Thankfully, the only real damage was a dislocated ring finger. I snapped it back in place, swapped my ring to the other hand, and hardly missed a step.
When the 3 of us hit the aid station at the bottom of Blackcomb, i decided that i would be better off in my other shoes (the blister causing ones). Mark and Phil disappeared up the ski slope ahead of me as i swapped my shoes, reloaded on food, and soaked in some cheers from my cheering squad. I wasn’t worried too much though; I liked the idea of doing the 10km climb on my own and at my own pace. I was well aware that pushing hard early would really bring out my lack of mileage, and could crush me. The next 8km up hill was a slog, but the 2km after that climb was absolutely brutal. No more cat track, no more groomed trail, just steep and rocky. I rolled up to the Rendezvous aid station unaware of where Mark and Phil were, pretty much expecting that they put about ten minutes into me. I grabbed food from my drop bag, hopped on the Peak2Peak gondola, and went about eating and taking care of my now blistering feet while enjoying the view. When the Gondola was just coming in to dock, i was pleasantly surprised to see Mark and Phil pass underneath. They were only about three minutes ahead of me.
Before the race, i had expected this next leg (top of Whistler to Creekside) to be where i would absolutely crush it. Technical downhill running is what i love, and what i am really good at. My morale took a serious kick in the balls though, because within a few strides i knew my feet were f#cked. The route was very steep, and my poor, blistered toes were getting hammered in to the ends of my shoes on every step. By the bottom, not only were the blisters killing me, but i was well aware that i’d be losing a few toe nails by the end of this.
As i ran in to the Creekside aid station, Mark and Phil were heading out. I really wanted to try to go with them, but i had to attend to my feet again. (Note: my friend Will was my amazing support crew, and met me at all the lower aid stations). I had to grease up my toes with vaseline, put on new socks, and toss back on my ‘tripping’ shoes. I got a chance to see my girls too (see photo above). Reloaded with food and water, off i went….and i f#cking tripped twice in the first 500m. I hammered the side of one of my feet in the process, and did some good damage to it. Stage 5 was going to be about survival.
This is about when Jens Voigt popped into my head: “Shut up legs”.
As i ran the first couple km of this stage, i was doing a full-body assessment. My lungs, legs, and energy level felt pretty good, but my feet were absolutely killing me. I was actually wincing as i ran. I had to have a real talk with myself about being such a pussy. Once i told my feet to shut up, and came to terms with the consequences that would imply after the race, i started to really move. I had started stage five, 5:00 down on Mark and Phil. I got to the end of stage five, 2 minutes down…and feeling strong. But again, I had to take care of my feet.
I lost three more minutes as i lubed, put on new socks, and swapped back to my ‘blister’ shoes. That put me back to 5:00 behind, but i knew i could make time on them. 21km to go. By my math, if nothing changed, it could come right down to the line. I was having a solid run on leg 6, pretty much prepping myself for the all-out, tank-emptying effort i was planning on the last leg (7). Then i saw Mark!! Talk about motivation. Mark is a really strong runner, and we have gone head to head several times before. I could see from the way he was running though that he was in a bit of trouble, and i was able to pull past him. Good legs and surging confidence are a strong combination.
I was flying in to the last aid station, with about a minute on Mark. As I dropped my pack and grabbed some cola (no food or fancy energy drinks at that point). I skipping the foot care, and Will yelled that Phil was 2:30 ahead (pretty much what i expected). At that point a switch closed in my brain, and the previous 75km and my sore toes and feet were totally forgotten. It was now a 10km trail run, with a 2:30 stagger. I went out hard! I doubted that i could hold the pace for the full 10km, but all i needed was to get Phil in sight. If i could see him, i was prepared to go to a very dark and painful place for the win. After about 4k the route popped out onto the paved trail around lost lake. It felt like butter to hit my stride on that section. I rolled along at around 3:30/km pace, which was right on the rivet for me at that point.
From behind, i wasn’t sure if he was hurting or if he was cruising in for the win. I came up on him pretty quickly, and kept on going. I needed to get past him and not let him latch on to me. I didn’t know how much i had left in the tank, but i pushed hard for the next few km’s. When i got about 3km from the finish, I was out of any fuel and running on fumes. The tell-tale signs of a blow up were creeping in to my system. To keep running for those last 3km, I had to go to the bottom of the well…and then some. I hadn’t looked back once since passing Phil, and only when i was 200m from the finish did i know i had it.
The second that i crossed the finish line, my body took back control over my brain. I became painfully aware of my feet again, and was totally staggered with fatigue. I could barely stand as i took my shoes off and hugged my wife and kids. I was so happy to have them there, along with my good friend Will. It took a few minutes for me to pry myself out of the tiny, internally focussed, little bubble i had been in all day. When i did though, it was amazing to see the crowd out to cheer, and to see Phil and Mark as they crossed the line.
After doing a bit of a finish line interview, which i was quite incoherent for, i tried to go ice my legs in the creek. Bad move…my body fully shut down, and i was on the verge of passing out. Thankfully, Will was with me and on his game. We were back at my rental condo in no time, where i spent the next 2 hours in the bathroom (toilet and shower) shaking uncontrollably. Jodi did her best to look after me, but i was a mess. I finally laid down and immediately fell asleep for an hour. Then, believe it or not, i woke up feeling pretty good. I had stopped shaking, the battery acid had trained out of my stomach, and i actually ate something.
I had just enough time to say good night to my girls and to answer their “why are you walking so funny dad?” questions, before heading over to the awards. The crew at 5peaks had put on amazing race. Every person at the awards, dirty and bloodied, exhausted and hobbling, had a smile on their face. The logistics of the event are staggering: 3500 flags marking the trails, covering 86km of amazing Whistler trails, 6 fully stocked aid stations, and too many volunteers along the way to thank. Phil and Mark really made a race out of it, and i think we supplied an exciting fight to the finish.
I will definitely be back next year to defend. The feeling of leaving absolutely everything that you have, out there on the course is pretty addicting.