It wasn’t actually supposed to happen. While everyone else was signing up for the annual Blackfoot Ultra race back in January, I was contemplating just getting through a tough winter of training. A mini-ultra was not on my radar.
Fast forward. A few people had dropped out. I was feeling good after my second half marathon of the year. Conversations over long, long training runs lead to idle suggestions that formulate into convoluted plans that ultimately end up with me spending money on a race. The reality of my current training partner spending three lonely hours in the bush manifested into the notion that running solo sucks and maybe I should “just see” about signing up for a now-fulled-up race. She didn’t need support or company, but I was interested and capable of taking on the challenge.
I was wait-listed for a few weeks.
I got the confirmation email and registered with mere days to gun time.
And on a sunny Saturday morning in late May I found myself driving a rural road east of the City towards Cooking Lake park with a bib, a pack full of water and a GoPro on a selfie stick.
Trail running is so much different from street running. Street running is simple. You show up to a place. You run along some roads. There are water stations ever couple of klicks. There are crowds of people everywhere cheering. The asphalt is mostly flat and clean. You run. You cross a finish line. Someone puts a medal around your neck. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
Trail running is much less simple. The start line resembles a campsite in the wilderness, tents and picnic tables and lawn chairs. One guy was strung up in a hammock in the middle of the turn-around checkin. They size you up and give you a run down of the course, warn you about wild animals, remind you eleven times to carry water, and recite the code of the trails. You vanish into the wilderness, plodding through rough path. Aid stations are like a rare oasis in the desert, and those few places are literally the only place you see non-runners. The trail is rough and broken, wet in unexpected places. You run. You walk. You pause to climb an especially steep hill. You finish and someone confirms you are alive and hands you a medal. It’s neither easy nor simple.
Three of us stuck together for the duration: Three and a half hours over twenty-five klicks.
I tripped and rolled, knocked the wind out of myself once just a few hundred meters from the end. Recovered. Finished.
We ate popsicles. Took photos and video. We joked and laughed. We talked to people we passed and the people who passed us. We cheered on the true-ultra-runners, the ones who ran fifty or even a hundred klicks that day as we encountered them. We had an amazing day.
It was less like a race and more like a power hike through the wilderness with friends… and ice cream at the end. And we’re already planning for next year.