When I moved to Banff in November I delcared to all my work colleagues that when they were out skiing in minus 30 degree temperatures I would be out running, and I'm not the kind of person to say something and then not stick to it. So as soon as I got to Banff training began, there were several races in the meantime but my real goal was to up the mileage and intensity so I wouldn't look stupid come May 1st.
I chose Elk Beaver as it's fast and flat. At first I thought that this would make it 'easy' but the closer I got the race I realised that in some ways it made it tougher - all flat, no hills I could walk and no downhills to shake out the legs on - it would be pure and simple hammer out 100kms with quick turn over. With this in mind, and the fact that the Albertan winter had hit, I spent hours on the treadmill - steady pace, minimal elevation and on my best session topped out at 2.5hrs on the damn thing! I also took to doing back to back long runs on the weekend and whereas in November a long run had been 2hrs, that time now became my standard after work mid week run about 3 or 4 nights a week.
So come May 1st I knew I'd make it to the finish line but to be honest was unsure about time. By this time I had found out that I'm not Canadian enough to represent Canada (I'm 'only' a landed immigrant) so had checked out the GB times and found that minimum qualifying time was 8h39 - so I set out with a pace band of 8h40 - manageable I thought but not crazy ambitious. Having never done a pace band for an ultra before even making that freaked me out a bit - splits per 5km was all I had room for! I would have to hit 52mins per loop/ 10k to get my goal.
I headed over to Victoria the evening before the race with my friends and newly recruited crew - Mike and Sukhi. EB is a small race - approx 50 racers over the 50km, 50mile and 100km distances - so I was super happy to have 2 really good friends to keep me company and I'd asked that they run one lap each with me (EB is 10 x 10km loops).
Race start of 6am rolled around too fast but with such a small field I didn't have the usual pre-race nerves - I was just happy to be back on the west coast among friends. I clicked into next to Sammy (Lofti-Pour aka Sammy Loverunning!) and a 50km runner. Sammy then pulled a little ahead so after a short chat with the 50km runner I was on my own and following Sammy. At each loop we had to pass through the start/ finish area where I'd set up my aid at the picnic shelter. First loop I was bang on 45mins, Sammy turned and saw me 'Ellie if you are running that close behind, you're running with me', and off we set on the 2nd and 3rd loops together chatting a long and catching up on running gossip. After the 3rd loop I was on 2h15 - wow this was fast! I nipped into the washroom, got a fresh bottle and headed out having lost Sammy ahead of me. I was a little daunted by my pace but it felt comfortable so I didn't see any reason to ease off. Even if I suffered later I thought, it was worth the risk. So loop 4 was the first on my own and I settled into a rhythm on the soft trails, not really feling alone as so many dogwalkers and weekend runners were out on the trail. Mike & Sukhi had also set up awesome banners for me that made me smile each time I passed them :) 'Go Greenwood Go!', 'Ellie Rocks' & 'As Fast as a Greyhound'!
I'd asked that Mike join me on the 5th loop, I did consider changing this to the 6th as I was still feeling strong but decided that some company would be good. We chatted along easily about Mikes goals for the Vancouver marathon the next day (2:53:37 - nicely done Mr. P!) and he gave me some good encouraging words to take with me on the next few loops. On the 5th loop I clocked 44minutes which included time at the aid station so I was half way in 3:42:40. This was a 50km PB of 6mins for me and I'd clocked 3h07 at the 42km mark - my 3rd fastest marathon ever! I was still feeling good, my hamstrings were seizing but they always do and I popped some ibuprofen - not something I would do other than on race day - and that definitely helped the pain.
Now I was half way done but just wanted to get to 60km mark, then mentally I would be on my way down to the finish. Mike and Sukhi took the opportunity to leave base for a while but there were so many other friendly faces at the start/ finish that I still felt encouraged. Myke Labelle was there supporting a friend and it was great just to have someone check I was ok when I came in for 60km. Throughout the race my pit stops at the start/ finish were pretty smooth, taking only a couple of minutes. I was very conscious that I needed to stay fuelled and shouldn't cut corners as that would be suicide for the final laps so I was prepared to spend a moment or two longer getting aid to save time overall. I was carrying a bottle of gatorade with me on the trail along with Clif Shot Bloks (love 'em!) and at the aid station I was hydrating on coke and salt & vinegar chips. Sukhi was diligently checking if I needed anything else like the P&J tortillas I had prepped but to be honest I was off the idea of any real food so just went for easy calories.
Lap 7 I ended up running abut 15mins with Joe Public and his friend who were out for a run and couldn't believe that they were now involved with a 100km race, but when their dog ran off I lost them and for the first time plugged myself into my iPod. Now, I never race with music, I use it a lot in solo training but never feel the need in a race but I thought that 100km would be different. I was wrong, after a while it really bugging me but I didn't want to get tangled in the wires so kept it on until I finished the loop - if nothing else it kept me pushing as I wanted to get rid of it!
Lap 8 and it was Sukhi's turn to accompany me. Until this point I was still averaging 45min per loop/ 10kms but now I could see I was easing off. There were markers every km which had first scared me but I soon came to love them as I could monitor my pace so easily. Sukhi asked if I wanted to go a little faster but now I was strguggling and decided best to let the pace ease a bit on this loop to save myself for the final two. Part way round the 8th loop Sukhi uttered words that were music to my ears 'I can do the 9th loop with you too if you want'. Do I want?! Oh yeah!! I was hurting at this point (more ibuprofen down) and picked it up a bit on the 9th loop but only becuse I was hangin on the heels of Sukhi. We didn't talk much (I couldn't!) and Sukhi was about 2ms in front of me, I tucked my head down and powered on.
Pulling into the start/ finish for the start of my 10th and final loop I was so determined and knew that 10km was a breeze but I was also pretty tired. Imagine my suprise when I went to grab some coke and saw Sammy, 'C'mon Ellie, let's do this together' and so I did a very short stop and we headed out together. I was totally envisaging us crossing the finish line together but maybe the comment of a supporter got my blood pumping a little ' Guys vs Girls!' - 'You better watch out with comments like that' I replied laughing as Sammy and I headed out. It was 6h50 as we left and my previous daydreams mid race of getting under 7h30 had gone but I didn't care - I was still wearing my 8h40 pace band and I was going to smoke that!
After about 1km on the final loop Sammy was cramping and he told me to go if I wanted. To be honest I knew I had to hammer as hard as I could otherwise I would totally lose my pace, so I kicked it up a notch and began earnestly searching for the next km marker. I so knew I could do this but the cheering of Mike and Sukhi at 7kms to go which I hadn't expected really helped too :)
There was a turn off on the trail at 1.5kms to go so as I ran along one particularly straight section I was willing on that turn and then I would be on the home straight. Sukhi had walked along the trail final km of the trail to see me in but I think all I said to him was 'I really want to beat Sammy' and then I got a little sprint on before grabbing one of the banners Mike had made to carry over the finish line, 'Tough as Titanium' - well the hamstrings didn't feel like titanium right now but who cares, I'd just raced my first 100km, just won my first overall race and just clocked 7h36m40s - wooooooooooooooooo hoooooooooooooooooooooo!
I'm still, 4 days later, on a little high from this weekend. A race where the fun-ness of the event and my result far exceeded my expectations, and the next day I volunteered and cheered friends on at the Vancouver marathon and half - so many good times of catching up with people that are part of the running scene. I've also had a few people wonder how I ran that time, and if I'm totally honest I don't know. All the stars were lined up for me at Elk Beaver and I just had a good day.
But what might have also helped:
- Logging more traning miles than ever before
- Runing lots of consecutive days so geeting used to running on tired legs
- I don't think I've lost weight but I might have leaned up a bit and have been eating healthy
- Living at an elevation of 4, 800m (I'm training even when I sleep!) and racing at sea level
- Making myself eat during the race - I was forcing fluids and Shot Bloks down, but at least I didn't bonk
- Chosing a pancake flat, looped course can't do any harm to running fast ;)
- Montrail providing me with one fine n' dandy pair of Rockridges that I can run 100km in without so much of a hot spot or hint of a blister.
- Having the ability on race day to run with my gut instincts - not being afraid to run at a pace far in excess of my plan, what's the worst that can happen? You bonk and you learn for another race.
So all in all, one fab race and I'm hopeful I might get a spot on the GB team for Gibraltar. Sammy - thank you - you rock! It was a privelege to race with you! Mike & Sukhi - is it an Elk? Is it a Beaver? No, it's a Lion!! Thanks guys so so much xxxxx I owe you one! And thanks to fellow Brit, RD & 50km racer - Carlos Castillos! http://pih.bc.ca/elk-beaver-ultra.html