Trail running means taking precautions for rattlesnakes, bears, mountain lions and the occasional moose! Originally from California I had grown up exposed to the typical 5-10 k runs, and then various distances of triathlons. Moving to Idaho has exposed me to the world of Ultra marathons—something I never would have anticipated being a part of a few years ago!
In 2016 my husband (then fiancé) and I decided to dip our toes into trail running. After completing two 20-mi trail races–not even an ultra–we set out a plan that included two 50km races and a 60 km trail race leading to the River of no Return 108 km race in June. Yes, this was a very optimistic (well, delusional) game plan. We had no idea just how challenging an event like that would be, and how demanding the preparation for such an endeavour would be. Long story short: we did not do the demanding preparation required and during the race I suffered a painful IT band injury that led to a DNF at mile 38. I had never had a DNF next to my name in my life, and I can tell you that it did not sit well. I took time off to work on healing, then spent the next year training for endurance cycling events before enlisting Martin and Focus on Fitness to lead me to redemption and a finish at the 108 km race in 2018. Here is a run down of the events I participated in on that journey.
Bigfoot Snowshoe Festival
This takes place near Salt Lake City, Utah in January. They have a variety of distances and I opted for the marathon distance. It was the first snowshoe event I have ever done and probably the furthest distance I’ve gone in snowshoes in totality. Unfortunately we had a warm winter so the snow wasn’t as deep as usual and they had to move locations, as there wasn’t enough snow for the original course. The new course would mean 8.4 loops in snowshoes, which ended up being more of a hindrance so I opted to get rid of them halfway through the race. It was a great way to be able to race in the winter. I had a great race finishing 2nd overall, covering the 42 kms in 5 hrs 28 mins, only 6 sec behind the winner.
Red Hot 55 k
This race takes place in Moab, Utah in February, this means the course was on some trails, but a majority was over the breathtaking red rock that you find in the deserts of that area. This was a mini vacation to escape the winter and maybe see a little warmth. This race was an awesome challenge as it was so much more difficult than the course description would lead anyone to believe from reading it. There was a lot of power hiking, with a total elevation gain of 1,500 mts over the 55km and the terrain gave me a lot more ankle work than any typical trail ever had. It was a slower 50k pace than I had done previously in more straight forward and flatter terrain, but it was a beautiful change of scenery and great way to break up the winter doldrums. I crossed the line in 6hrs 56 min finishing 29th in the female race.
Pulse Endurance Runs
This takes place in Boise, Idaho and was going to be my first big distance. This race is set up in a timed fashion. This means I would have 12 hrs to complete as many 2.8mi loops as possible. There were also options for 6 hrs, 24 hrs, and 48 hrs. The course was a nice flat 2.8 mi loop and the aid station was well stocked and you were always able to find company with the loop system. While the loop system would seem daunting for mental strength, it does allow you to practice pacing since you know exactly what is coming up. All the double days and long runs had paid off and I felt strong enough to keep a steady pace and get just over 100 k! My joints and muscles were in a bit of shock and agony, but it felt great to complete the achievement and see what I was capable of.
Saltflats 50 Mile
The Salt Flats 50 mile Endurance Run is raced on the Salt Flats of Bonneville Speedway, Utah. This a premier event, and the weather for this event can be anything from sunshine and hot conditions to snow and near freezing temperatures.
I set out sticking to the plan and pace. This patience paying off with a fantastic race finishing 3rd overall and 1st female. This was my final race in the build up to the River of No Return 108k endurance run. I finished the 50 mile in 8 hrs 49 minutes.
It’ll be some bear: hitting 69 miles and accumulating 17,000 feet of elevation gain. After this training regimen, I am thinking I stand a chance 🙂
Race Day: The River of No Return 108k Endurance Run
I had a very successful training season and was ecstatic with the results I had achieved in the ‘training’ races leading up to the main event. In addition to Martin’s training program I was diligent in working on flexibility and mobility in my hips, as I knew that’s from where my IT band injury had stemmed. June in Idaho does not guarantee any type of weather conditions. In fact, the only guarantee with June weather in Idaho is that you will be surprised by the weather conditions. The previous year had experienced miles and miles of deep snow, while other years would have seen high temperatures. This year the forecast showed that a few days long storm (rain, hail, snow, lightning and thunder – the works) would be rolling through Challis on race weekend. After changing our lodging from camping to a motel and packing a change of socks, pants, and shirts in every drop bag we set out.
Race morning I woke up to cold rain for the 5 am start. Even with headlamps the rain made it a bit more challenging to start out with. After a couple of warm up miles you head straight into the first climb. The rain slowed and paused while the sun came up, but I was not feeling strong for that first climb. When I finally started the descent after cresting the first of 5 big climbs I had frantic thoughts running through my head of what I did wrong and why I had not recovered as well leading in to the most important race of the year. The last thing I thought before telling myself to get on with it was “this is going to be a long day.”
Fortunately that first climb must have been the warm up. As I finished the descent into the first aid station, I had a quick change of clothes and pep talk from the support crew before heading up into the most daunting climb of the race – Ramshorn. The first half of the climb was steady switch backs and I was able to get my groove back and felt myself getting stronger. As I made my way into the second half of the climb I was passing people and feeling good. I could hear thunder rolling in the distance and knew I wanted to make it over the 10,000 foot peak before the storm was directly overhead. By the time I had finished the descent into mile 30, I had made it through snow and hail and the rain was pouring down. The muddy conditions made for slower going than usual but I was feeling strong and spirits were high. I tucked myself into my rain/wind shell and powered into the third climb. With 7 (or more, I lost count) hefty stream crossings and a marshy meadow to the top, this climb was the most beautiful (which is saying a lot as the entire Frank Church wilderness is hard to beat) but pretty taxing. I was feeling great as I met my support crew at mile 38, got fresh pair of socks and shoes, and picked up my pacer. The 4th climb was the shortest of the climbs and the weather had warmed up for us briefly so it flew by. The long steady descent overlooked beautiful meadows and braced us for the final climb.
This part felt like the most wild – the woods were more dense, the trees groaned, and there were fresh bear tracks – I was very grateful that A) I was not on this stretch alone (thanks to my awesome pacer, Drew!) and B) I was not doing this in the dark. Fatigue was setting in hard and the slippery mud on the uphill only wore on my previously upbeat mindset. As we made it to the final mile ( mile 55) of climb, I was moving more slowly, but I made a promise to myself not to stop unless I was at an aid station. This area was the coldest of the race and as dusk was coming in we made sure to keep moving (the cold can cause serious damage before you realize!). I was frustrated with the mud, especially on the otherwise “runnable” sections, and my pacer put up with serious grumpiness! Soon the mud turned into firm ground as we dropped in elevation and I ‘only’ had a half marathon of a rolling descent into the city of Challis and the finish line. I ended up finishing strong and coming in at 17 hr 32 min and 48 seconds as the 2nd place female! Hours faster than my original goal of completing the race before the cut off time of 22 hrs. I was a Cinderella story, hah! Even more amazing, is that after a rough two years of battling with IT band pain, I had made through an entire season with zero injury. Not even after the hilly 69 miles I put myself though! I could not be happier with the results and after a 4 week break am ready for a summer of OCR, trail runs, mountain biking, and cycling on whatever whim catches my fancy. At least until the next big event…
A huge thanks to my husband, Mark Hayden who supported my crazy training schedule and race weekends throughout the 8 month period. Also to Drew Adams for his insight, pep talks, and of course pacing! He put up with all the mood swings I threw at him over that last 50 km. Last, but most definitely not least, Martin Kirwan who was my coach throughout. Without his training plan and knowledge I would have been lucky to make that 22 hr cut off.
The Stats: River Of No Return – Challis, ID USA, June 16th, 2018
Distance: 108km (69.1 mi)
Elevation gain: 17,626 feet over 5 mountain tops
Highest elevation reached: 10,000 ft
Start time: 5:00 am
Finish time: 10:32 pm
Time to completion: 17:32:48
Average Pace: 15:42 min/mi
Finishing position: 12th overall/2nd female