The Ottawa Super and UltraBeast

  

I was really hoping to get a double win this weekend in Ottawa: the Super and the UltraBeast. 

The Super started out up the side of the mountain on single track. Jostling for position was tricky and it ended up being a nice warm up. The obstacles and course were awesome with some fun combos like a herc hoist to rope climb. This is where I finally caught up to the lead, Judith, who runs like a gazelle.

After the rope, there was a series of switchbacks up the mountain at my favourite grade. Back at the bottom of the mountain was a heavy jerry can carry followed by a tractor pull (cement on a chain). 

The jerry can was unpleasant. It was the kind of weight you usually see in the states. 

I missed my spear but I had enough of a lead that it didn’t factor in. 

One down.

I had a lot more confidence going into the UltraBeast with my endurance background and felt almost no nerves Sunday. Plus, we had no kids. What a relaxed race morning that makes for.
When we showed up the registration line spanned across the parking lot and was not moving.

A few staffers informed us that there was a problem with the system and that no one would start until we were all through.

Well we waited, the announcer started, the tape was cut and the racers took off.

Crackerjacks.

No problem, the race was based on chip time today. We started in the next wave, 15 minutes back.

I reframed the late start as a bonus: if I caught anyone, I’d have them, unless they dropped me by more than 15 minutes. 

It made things confusing until I caught the last lady on the bonus “carry section” of the UB course. I checked my watch when she passed and again when I passed that same point. I was eight minutes “ahead.” 

After the carries and drags, and once I start to love life again (boy were they tough in the heat), someone yelled that I was two minutes behind the leader. 

Two minutes gun time or chip time? He was looking at a phone so I wasn’t sure.

We were running up a stream for the next obstacle (which was cold and devine) and I asked the cameraman how far she was. 30-45 seconds.

Gotcha.

She came off the monkey bars and was doing burpees when I passed her.

I loved the course. It was fun, had a lot of challenge and variety and was well marked. At the Super there was a fuzzy area but they rectified that 100% by the next morning. I love that about Spartan Eastern Canada. Problems solved. The one area I found confusing was the tire carry. We followed it just fine but weren’t certain we were hiking the right way until the end.

My favourite obstacle was the infinity bar combo. It was basically a swingy turning monkey bar spool to pipe alternating. Fun. 

They also had little change ups like a weaver pole and a double and then single sand bag carry from lap to lap. And only one carry lap. Thank heavens.

Just kept it fresh…

Part of distance racing is knowing yourself, and I know that I don’t like stopping. So my drop kit was a sandwich bag filled with various forms of sugar. 

I grabbed it and headed back out of the drop bag tent. A friend who is faster but has less experience at these crazy long races, finished his stop and hiked along side me for a bit. 

He had a long pit and saw no other females so it was nice to hear it confirmed that I moved into first. I was well hydrated and well fed.
I saw the girl who was originally in the lead coming up the mountain as I was coming down and was relieved to see that I had opened such a gap. We exchanged cheers and I picked up the pace.

From here it was a lot more easy running. I felt so good on the switchbacks… I was certain I was running sub 5 minute kilometers… although my GPS didn’t last the 8 hours until this point. 

At every obstacle I did they confirmed I was in the lead. Most people I passed said the same.

Not one person said I was in anything but first – until the finish line. 

I missed my spear and one of the media guys congratulated me on second. 

No first. 

No second. 

As it went…

Sorry to tell you but first place just passed through the finish line.

Most somber looking fire jump ever. I’m sure I looked like Eyore after watching Bambi’s mother die.

I thought I was having a stroke until person after person came up to either congratulate me on the win or tell me they saw me in the lead the whole final lap.

The next few ladies stumbled over the line with the same confusion and disbelief.

As it turned out, the girl who was originally in the lead on the first lap went off course and Rosie Ruiz’d it.

It was a bit of a crazy blow on an otherwise amazing race. I did more burpees than I should have. But the last lap particularly was so much fun. 

Thanks in no small part to the Mudd Queens and all the support and encouragement from various east coasters along the route. 
You guys are awesome and I’m going to miss you something fierce.

Who will yell, “Allison Tai, you f**king suck at running downhill!” as they blow past me… as the guy who once carried my arm warmers for an entire race when I dropped them does… every time. 

Who will make me love this sport for the sport itself and for the people drawn to it?

I have absolutely loved racing Nancy and Judith – and number one OCR athlete in the universe Claude. It’s like racing family.
And I will miss Milligan and the CMQ group dearly. Thanks for making me feel at home. 

I’m one lucky girl.

BattleFrog New England

 

 
It’s been a while since I’ve been afraid to not finish a race.

But when you’re racing as an elite at BattleFrog, it’s entirely plausible. And it’s kind of exciting.

At the start, they give you an elite band, which is taken away should you fail to complete any obstacle. And the obstacles are designed by navy seals to collect those bands.

What’s great about BattleFrog is that even though the obstacles are challenging for elites when completed solo, recreational athletes can still complete them with the help of others. Or they can take the 8-count-bodybuilder penalty.

On that note, sorry I yelled at you for touching my butt nice-guy-who-was-just-trying-to-help-me-over-the-wall. I’m fine with you touching my butt if I don’t get disqualified for it. Seriously.

Most of the obstacles were typical outside of being very well made and having little twists… like a slippery wall without the customary rope. They had walls of all heights and inclines, ropes, nets, latters, a crawl, a sternum checker, and a sandbag carry.

What really set the race off was a double jerry can early on that was long enough to blow your forearms just the right amount. On the second lap I was pleasantly surprised to find out we only had to carry one, so you could switch it back and forth.

For some, the second lap was surprising, in that elites had to do a second lap. 

On that note, sorry guy-who-thought-we-were-at-the-finish-when-we-were-only-halfway. Seriously. Damn. That is not a good kind of surprise. 

The rig (cage with stuff you had to swing across) was the real deal breaker for a good chunk of the elites.

The female’s side was a rope, low ring, two more ropes, a high ring, a fat square bar, two monkey bars with a large gap, a pipe, a low ring and two high rings.

The men’s was a fireman pole, two pipes, side traverse, ring, rope, fat square bar, two monkey bars with a wide gap, pipe and three high rings.

I came off the first two times but there wasn’t much of a line and thankfully I hopped back on quickly. The third time I skipped the pipe and grabbed the low ring at the end with my feet and made it through.

Fist pump.

At the rig on my next lap there was a small crowd of elites still on their first lap, determined to make it through. Now that my friends is true grit. Man, to be there when they finally nailed it…

My least favourite obstacle was the Tsunami. From the ground, it looked like a slide. From up top, it looked like a free fall. 

I dropped off the side, hanging from one set of finger tips. At that point I felt my free fall suspicion had been confirmed, but there was only one option outside of a one arm muscle up on my finger tips. I let go and before I knew it I had launched off the end and was skidding across the ground, shorts at once transformed into a thong and yet somehow ballooned up with mud.

The race had top notch obstacles, a great atmosphere and was well marked.

But the most striking part of my experience was the people. 
My dad had to fly home unexpectedly and as such, we had no one to watch the kids. When we got to the race, we were swiftly and happily sorted out. 

The volunteers were also extra amazing. They would instruct you clearly when you came up to an obstacle and then cheer you through. Even the photographers were cheering.

I can’t wait to race another BattleFrog, and to hopefully make it across that finish line with an elite band still strapped to my wrist again… mud wedgie and all.

Toronto Spartan Sprint and Super

  

After a sleepless red eye and several attempts at nighttime sleeping with a baby who is cutting molars (and who is not very good at sleeping in the best of occasions)… we knew this weekend was going to be one of those “pull-up-your-boots” and STFU kinda scenarios.

The Toronto Spartan courses are on a relatively small mountain. It is truly impressive how they deliver such a beat down – the climbing feels relentless at times. 

On Saturday I ran the Sprint event burpee free – after working out a new spear throw technique that has yet to fail me and getting a handle on the slack line (I call it running like hell for the bell). 

I was feeling kinda flat until I saw first place just around the lake… and a flat trail to get there. I opened up my stride and as soon as our shoulders aligned, it was on. 

There was a super mucky barb wire pit, where I failed to keep my hands dry (despite knowing the rig was around the corner). 

As soon as we stood up, we started pulling clumps of thick muck of our hands. The next major obstacle was drying our hands off: grass, shirt, head, bra, anything.

We ran up the final grass hill with our hands on the ground like dogs scooting their bums on the carpet.

April, first onto the final real obstacle – the rig, is a killer fit, talented and a local favourite. Guys from her team were gathering and yelling at her to drop me. Sadly, she rushed the rig and came off.

Hitting the bell at the end of the series of ropes, rings and square bars was awesome. A slippery wall and a fire jump and I had this thing in the bag.

Sometimes it’s just your day.

And other times, it’s not.

The next day was the Super, which is more than double the distance of a Sprint… so far more my thing.

I began the race at the back and started working my way through the pack, as I always hope to do. 

A few kilometers in there was a bottleneck at the super long monkey bar set. 

There was only one lane for ladies, with one racer hanging off the first rung and her feet still on the platform and another almost across but struggling.

“You’re up” – I pointed out.

No go.

She didn’t want to move until the woman in front had cleared them. Which was fair since it sucks hanging there waiting for the person in front to keep moving. But I figured since was most of the way across it would have taken a long enough time to get to her and by that time she would have come off or hit the bell.

So I asked if I could go and promised that I’d be off long before I could be in her way. But that didn’t work since then I’d be on the bars. 

I tried to do the males side but I couldn’t reach the bars. 

It was agony. I’ve never waited in line at a Spartan Race before. 

It was probably only a couple of minutes but it felt like hours. Days. An eternity.

Maybe I could have just touched the bars and taken burpees, maybe I could have jumped in front and side traversed on the pole to get past her. Both seemed like the wrong thing to do.

So I waited. 

And finally I went.

I spent a while trying to close the gap until I got lazy and focused on holding third.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I could have done to make the outcome of that situation better. You just do what you can with what you can control. It’s just how this sport goes.

I let myself have a few minutes of disappointment until I hosed off. And then I decided to let it wash away with the mud.

The Vancouver Spartan Sprint 

 

There are many good things about a hometown race. 

 First off, you know the terrain… so you can fly on in. Second, people know you and cheer using your name. Some people: some people yell “Go Ellie” but whatever… good enough. Third, you just might have a babysitter and be able to race your significant other for the first time ever.

I had the flu Thursday so ended up spending the day in bed… which may have actually helped. Resting is not easy for me. But I guess I showed up rested care of feeling intensely dizzy every time I stood up.

My husband has also been sleeping with the baby – and I’ve been sleeping with ear plugs. Which is an awesome arrangement for me.

I showed up ready to run the downhills fast and it was perfect having my husband and #1 training partner to chase on the decents. The course was hilly, rocky and a bit technical but nothing like the frightening leg breakers often featured in Spartan races. I’m looking at you Mont Tremblant. 

Perspective right?

I think running the drops quick really helped me out since I ended up doing 60 burpees (balance and spear).

The spear led the final cluster of obstacles and I was just finishing my burpees when the mighty Faye Stenning and Michelle Ford rolled in. Good news for me, they both missed too and I was able to make my way to the finish without being hunted down in the final few hundred meters.

These are not ladies you want chasing you into the finish area.

I was a little worried about my choice of wardrobe: capris. But my outfit was a new line I tried from Virus Athletics that cools your skin. It felt instantly cool when I put it on but I wasn’t sure how it would respond on the side of a mountain in the sun. It was awesome. Like wearing a wet towel and yet nothing at all – and especially cool when it gets wet (hello, mud pit of wet). It also feels seamless and like silk. I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to end up wearing this stuff.

Not Doing Burpees is Awesome

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After racing pretty hard yesterday, I wasn’t sure how things would go today.

I got ahead of Claude, Spartan World Champion x2 and Olympic biathlete, on the first climb by running as much as I could – and by narrowly escaping a heart attack.

Good start.

She took back the lead heading down the other side of the mountain, but the terrain was neither steep nor technical, so I was able to stay with her. I saw her cross the balance beam to slack line combo I had failed twice to this point. Instead of slowing and carefully balancing, I took my husband’s advice and ran for the bell with all I had and thumped it with a triumphant “donk”.

Then I danced. Then I kept running.

I set up and launched my spear as I always do. But something different happened.

It went in.

The only two obstacles I’ve failed on this course behind me. Might this be my first race without penalty burpees?

After the hand hold traverse to long monkey bar combo, the course ran through the crowd of spectators before the big cargo and another big climb.

The crowd was absolutely thundering.

And the announcer said I was in first place.

Me?

Whoah. Really? Where’s Claude?

I had no idea she missed the bell on the end of the slack line and was 30 burpees back.

The crawl uphill was horrendous on the open wounds on my knees and hand from the fall yesterday but I managed to get through it.
I swore a bit but not nearly as much as I did when I landed that spear. And I pretty much always swear. I’m from Alberta.

I managed to hold Claude off up the final climb by running as much as I could. She was coming into the atlas carry (carry large stone, 5 burpees, carry back) as I was heading back down the mountain.

It didn’t take her long to overtake me on the technical and steep downhill section under the chair lift into the finish area. That lady flies on the gnarly decents.

But man, who cares… that was the best race ever.

Things I Learned in Sparta Today…

Well I missed the spear AND balance again… just as I did last week.

The good news is that I was actually with the mighty Queen of Sparta, Claude Godbout, until the slack line. Which is crazy awesome. I fell to third, and fought back to second by hauling ass up and down the mountain. After a good fall on some rocks coming into the final cluster of obstacles, third place was hot on my heals.

She was starting her short sandbag carry when I was coming in.

I knew I had enough time to get through everything carefully – but any burpees would cost me. I was sure happy when I got to that fire jump.

A chance to stand beside Claude on the podium is pretty friggin awesome!

AND… I learned some good stuff today.

Be prepared for EVERYTHING. I was dying in the heat last week and wished like crazy I had my hydration vest. This week I needed to run out for some emergency resort-priced arm warmers the night before. Thankfully I packed tights… but I ended up needing to change back to my shorts… so I glad I packed them too. You seriously never know what the weather will do when you race in the mountains. Have everything you might need.

Save your hands. Keep them as dry and clean as possible, but also keep them warm. I knew there wasn’t any water on course so I wore thin cotton gloves between obstacles to block the icy wind. I’d take them off just before rolling into an obstacle and stuff them in my shorts. The side. Stuff them in the side.

Obstacles get harder. The edges were all clean and crisp when I ran in the first wave out last weekend. Not so today… many fell from the traverse wall and wood block traverse. In fact, the finger ledge was totally missing on one of the holds.

Work hard on those hills. I didn’t work nearly as hard as I could have on the hills last weekend. Rest your lungs on the downhill and rest your legs at the finish if you’re going for time.

But never rest your brain. I went to shove my sunglasses into my shorts on the steep rocky bit coming into the rig and the last string of obstacles – and plowed into the ground hard. It stung… and I had to have a good long, curse filled pep talk with myself to get back up.

If you attach your chip to your laces, put in on the foot you don’t step onto for the rope climb. Trying to climb a rope with the hand I just tore the skin off sucked enough but getting the rope caught on my chip extra sucked.

Montana Spartan: Damn… STFU is Hard Work


I’ve been running some good times on the road lately. And I’ve been loving just training and running. But not having raced an OCR since World’s Toughest Mudder, it was time to get back in the mud.

Plus it was weird not being covered head-to-toe in so many cuts and bruises that people ask me if I’m “ok” at ballet pick up.

Yes sir, it’s been too long since my last shower game of mud or blood.

Saturday’s Beast was over 14 miles and designed by the notorious and slightly evil Norm Koch.

There were lots of steep climbs and decents, plenty of running through brush, and more than a few vault obstacles. Enough to make me wonder why my belly hurt on the outside later that evening.

And I had a rough start.

I missed the first real obstacle and as such, did my 30 burpees and spent the rest of the race trying to catch up.

It was one of those crazy sets of up and down monkey bars with the fat tubes. But it seemed the rungs were really far apart. Many of the elites made it (but many didn’t). I heard they closed it down for the later open heats since few were making it across. Anyway, it sucked failing something so early on in my first race of the year!

Thankfully I did pretty well otherwise. The new zig-zag traverse wall was fun and the American style über heavy herc hoist was rewarding to conquer.

I also missed the rousing running game of what’s under this brush: Mud? Water? Rocks? Flat ground? Nothing?  You never know!

Had this been a short course I would have lost by a mile. Thankfully I was able to run down the lead pack. I never did catch the front runner track star, Faye, who was eternally “5 minutes ahead” as per every person I passed. 

I missed the spear throw and the rig (rings to pole traverse to tarzan ropes) and yet managed to hold onto second place.

I was exhausted off the start from a baby that never sleeps more than a couple hours and a bunch of all night partiers in a hotel room on route. 

I felt more challenged then I wanted to and vowed to, above all, have fun in the Sprint the next day.

I slowed down and sped up when I wanted to. I still missed the same three obstacles but my spear stuck long enough for the crowd to cheer and I made it to the tarzan ropes before hitting the dirt.

I came seventh and I was somewhere on the mountain still when Rose and Amelia jumped the fire.

But… I had fun and finished with a huge smile. It was a win.

Speaking of Rose and Amelia, they waited at the finish to watch us mortals come through. Amelia even gave me a cup of water and wished me a happy Mother’s Day. It’s a small gesture but it went straight to my heart. This lady is physically inhuman, dominating in every distance… and yet profoundly sincere, humble and thoughtful on the inside.

Just another reminder about why I love this sport. 

The Diez Vistas

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I heard this race drew a more competitive field than the one I did a month ago, so I was surprised when we all huddled around an imaginary start line without timing chips in a parking lot near Sassamat Lake for an unannounced count down from ten. They had no megaphone, so they replied on two people to shout in unison. You have got to love trail running.

News in the bathroom pre-race was that the course was longer – and that BC Hydro was in the area blowing stuff up. A small group of ladies were fretting over cut-off times.

The first bit was pretty easy, undulating beside the lake, with occasional breath taking views of the fog rising off the water. After a sharp right, I realized that the terrain was changing. From “a hearty climb” like the BCMC to “steeper yet” like the Grind to “hands and knees” like the top of the Lions.

After arriving at the peak rather hastily, the trail quickly dropped back down.

I am not a technical downhill runner on the best of days, but having torn my rotator cuff last week, bombing down a rocky rooty mountain was not working. My wildly flailing arm and any big steps would send a jolt of pain up one side of my body and through my arm. Trying to steady it was almost impossible so I stuffed it into my pack, tourniquet style, and slowly made my way down. Running where I could move softly, walking where I could stay in control.

This is going to be a long day.

My solution, which was so brilliant to me at the time, was short lived. My arm started to go numb and my shoulder started to cramp. And after falling and going down with a thump unable to free my arm, I started grabbing onto the bottom of my shorts and pumping my hand on the flats and climbs which felt better and took my mind off the ache.

Every now and again the pain would almost become unbearable. And then it would fade.

Isn’t that ultra-running though.

I was thankful the rest of the course was, although monstrously hilly, not nearly as technical. I was able to run most of it without too many zingers. After having resigned to walking the rest of the downhills, I was delighted to be able to put some ground underneath myself on the drops. I was seriously starting to miss my two girls and hoping they weren’t giving grandma a hard time. Whoever said absence makes that heart grow fonder was right. I’d let them eat bananas on the couch right about now.

When I run these races, I usually don’t carry my own fuel. I love dreaming about what might be at the next aid station: oreos? peanut m&ms? boiled potatoes? ketchup chips?

Sadly but honestly, it keeps me going. When you’re out there, life becomes so simple. Keep going. Keep moving. Pick up your feet. Little indulgences like oreos go a long way. And I think that in many ways, that’s why we do it: to strip our lives down to it’s main essence of big struggles and little rewards.

At some point though, I was no longer excited about oreos. I was still elated every time I emerged from the trees into the full sun and caught a glimpse of it’s ray shining on the water below. But oreos were not enough. Plodding through the darkness of the trees, I hoped BC Hydro might just explode me. Not to hurt me forever, but give me a solid excuse to stop running.

Alas, no bombs. Just more miles.

My watch died after 20k, so I spent the last 30 only knowing I was somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometres. I passed someone and noticed a GPS on his wrist. He was from the States… but informed me we had 9 miles to go. Just less than 14k. Awesome.

I ran about 5k to the next aid station and was informed that we were almost at kilometre 36. Just over 14k to go. Awesome.

On the trek down to the aid station, we passed all the lead runners. I was probably 15 minutes off the lead pack of girls and they were flying. The leader looked like she was running 400m. On the way up, I got to cheer for all the people coming into the station.

It’s funny, some are still just as sparky and enthusiastic as they were when they stepped out of their car in the morning. Others just make whatever grumpy noise happens out of their mouth, head down, trudging on. Presumably hoping that BC Hydro will end their misery.

And you get every type of person. From gorgeous women dressed in fashionable high-end athletic gear to those older men who have have done hundreds of ultra-marthons and yet can tell you about each of them in detail.

You know the guys: slightly crazy hair, well-worn bandana and gaiters, ultra-marathon shirt from the glory days, Running Room water bottle holder. Stuff that still works. Stuff that has always worked.

One road marathoner that I ran with for a few steps quipped about how it was possible for his hamstrings to literally feel like they were going to tear in half so early in the race. “Is that normal?” – “Sadly, yes.”

After dropping back down for what felt like an eternity – and the final aid station (several oreos later) – the last grunt uphill began.

Looking up the mountain, you would see a sparse line of skinny colourfully-dressed people, weaving back and forth, willing their little legs to defy gravity enough to haul them up this one last hill. Their resolution flickering in and out to prevent total desperation from taking over. People who have learned to stay positive through necessity. People who do.

And then the final drop. It seemed to go on forever, until finally you hit the tip of the lake and can see the beach at which this madness started. You can hear the finish line from the bottom of a long set of stairs on the water.

You don’t hear music. There’s no announcer. But the race director says your name, looks you in the eye and shakes your hand as you cross the line. She hands you a draw string back with the race’s logo on it.

I jumped right into the car to pick my girls up. For me, there’s nothing at the finish line that beats that.

The Dirty Duo 50k

Sometimes the going just ain’t easy. 

And you know for certain it’s going to be one of those, “dig deep just to keep moving” kinda days when you’re checking your GPS one kilometer in.

But these are great days to have. You don’t build resilience on the days you glide along effortlessly. You build it by gritting out the miles and learning to hang on even when you want to let go. Especially when you want to let go.

By kilometer 24 I thought about bailing at a single loop. I had amassed some pretty great excuses in the last 23 km. 

Another 25km seemed daunting. Undoable. 

But another step was possible. And another ten after that.

And so it continued.

The second grind up Old Buck was tough. On the first round, Sammy was coming down whooping and high fiving every runner on the path. 

Transitioning from power hiking to running and back was natural. But my legs and spirit were tired on that next go. 

The steep and rocky decent back down Neds was also proportionally more difficult on round two.

My mind kept wandering to the next episode of my newest television obsession. I kept having to remind myself that I’d probably be eating through a straw while I watched it if I didn’t hold it together.

Popcorn is not easy to eat through a straw. And I really like popcorn.

Wake up gosh darn you. Focus.

My body finally started to chug into motion about 5 hours in. The last few kilometers were breezy and a good reminder about why I love running.

Hey this is running business is fun.

I just wish we could snap our fingers and find our groove. Or maybe I don’t. 

If the going was always easy, I’d never feel the joy of making it out the other side a stronger person.

Today I felt that joy.