Friday, July 17, 2015

Alissa St Laurent's Sinister 7 Race Report

Spoiler alert, I ran Sinister 7 100 miler in 18:37. Faster than any woman so far, and by a fair bit. 2 hours 34 minutes actually, and faster than the old 148km course too. In less than ideal conditions. I know…I’m just as surprised as you are. And you might say I’m lucky. I wouldn’t disagree, I’m always saying that too. But when I say that it’s because I really just dislike the notion of having bad luck and I believe in being positive. So…here is how I set some big scary goals to be the first place female at my one of my very favourite races and to break the women’s course record. Oh and I crushed those goals. And in truth luck really had nothing to do with it.

 The start…hey there’s my buddy Eric in the yellow!
My day started out calm. Waking up was easy, breakfast of muesli, almond milk, and banana was simple and I washed it down with a coffee and a coke. I was relaxed and joking all morning, as I had been all week. In the past I’ve struggled with pretty severe anxiety before and even after races, to the point that I get anxious about getting anxious. Maybe it’s the support system I’ve built up around me, or a familiarity that’s settled in over my short little racing “career” I’m not sure. But I think it’s a confidence thing, I’m learning to trust my training, my planning, and my abilities.
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I didn’t feel overly chatty at the start line. So I didn’t give myself much time just to stand around, I got there just in time. The crowd started moving and we set off for the first section of easy ditch and road. Effortless floaty kilometers. Not thinking about anything but the freshness in the air. I settled in and chatted easily with a few runners. My usual teasing and making plans for beers at the finish line. A little trash talking, I couldn’t help myself! I want to publicly apologize to the random relay runner who I asked if he minded being chicked by a soloist. I’m sorry, sometimes I think I’m funnier than I actually am. And I really did like your tights I wasn’t being sarcastic. Actually, maybe I wasn’t as sorry as I say because I then did it again to my good friend Steve Baker on Leg 2. Sigh. Sorry Steve.
 I had my eye on my watch and the spot I knew the 1st transition would be as we worked our way up into single track and trees. Still effortless, I didn’t walk a step on Leg 1. I popped out at the transition a minute or so ahead of my planned pace. My one man crew, Ryne Melcher was the first and kind of the only person I really saw there, he switched out my soft flask filled with Vitargo. I had met Ryne earlier that spring in France when I’d ran the World Trail Championships in Annecy. Despite my somewhat mediocre performance there I was beyond excited when he offered to come out and crew me at Sinister 7. He’s a very accomplished runner and has more experience crewing than anyone I know. I knew his personality and style of crewing would suit me and I could learn a lot from him and trust his judgement. Although I had laughed at him when earlier that week he told me he thought I could run the race in 18:45. I also admit to rolling my eyes a few times when he kept telling me to eat but he was so great all day. I have to start off by giving him a huge amount of credit for making me look good in the transitions and keeping me on track, it was a game changer.

Leg 2
I really love Leg 2. It was the first section of the course I’d ever done when I raced on a team in 2013 and I enjoy the steady climb and the really runnable rocky loop around Hastings Ridge. I was moving well, breathing easily, and just enjoying myself. I stopped for a quick fill up at the midway water station and before I knew it the leg was over and I was coming into the busy field at the transition, happy to be there. Ryne was right where I pictured he would be and we switched out bottles and I filled him in on what I’d been eating and told him I was feeling good. I circled around the timing mat and back to Ryne for some ice down my sports bra and in a bandana around m neck and I pushed him for time goals. “When do you want me back here?” He took seconds to do the math - which I couldn’t be bothered to do myself - and gave me the numbers while I started off up the hill with a honey stinger waffle in hand.
Leg 3 was where I expected it to get warm, and it did. According to my Suunto it reached over 31 on the most exposed section. Before I’d even had a chance to get there though I felt like I was working, for the first time all day. Nothing specifically wrong, just a bit tired, almost lightheaded. I don’t know when it lifted but when I ran passed a handful of relay runners that were walking on the climbs I knew I was back. So I let myself go and I started to have fun again. I got to chat with an amazing runner friend, Kendall Barber, and something about our short conversation made me realize that I was out here in my element, this is exactly where I belong. It was time to work again. Up the climb I spotted a few of the male soloists ahead, Eric Reyes, Timo Meyer, & Ian MacNairn. I realized I still had my hand on the pulse of the front race. I only mildly questioned what the hell I was doing up there with these big guys but I’d worry about that later if I needed to. I was taking this one leg at a time and I was sternly cutting short any thoughts that went past the end of the leg that I was on. Focus on the present.
As I cruised into the transition I felt great, like I’d just snuck through hell and made it though unscathed. Leg 3 is notorious for crushing soloists. I mentioned I had a bit of a soft spot on that section but I was fine, ready to go. “I took in around 900 calories on that leg” I proudly announced as I tossed all my empty gel packets on the ground as proof. Ryne didn’t exactly stop to congratulate me, he acknowledged it and stuffed more gels in my pack. Okay fine. Time to go. We went over times and quick updates on what was going on in the field. Only two men ahead of me and no pressure from the women’s field. I heard it but didn’t feel any sort of reaction to the news. I felt completely independent.
I was grateful for the climb up the ski hill at the beginning of the leg. Climbing felt good, it felt like I was chipping away at some of the elevation on the course while settling in to a good pace. And somehow it felt restful. I was ready to run again when the opportunity came. I slowly caught up to Eric Reyes, the 2nd place soloist. I was happy to see him and we chatted briefly. I told him he was 2nd and he didn’t believe me, said he had ran in with the other guys and they’d surely gone out ahead. We ran into a water station and while I was sponging water over my head I asked the volunteers about how many soloists they’d seen come by. “Just Dave Proctor”, the lady told me. To which I immediately replied “Oh well no one cares about Dave anyways”. Luckily they laughed. But Dave, I really meant that at the time!
“See, you are in second!” I told Eric as I started heading out. “No, now you are!” he shot back as he followed behind. We went back and forth with each other until the end of the leg, which was mostly open and runnable from that point. A few kms before the transition we caught up to a girl not moving well. As I passed I asked her if she was okay and if she needed anything. “Can you help me with my shoes? If I bend down I won’t get back up, I’m cramping too bad.” So Eric took one foot and I the other and we loosened her shoes for her. She was a relay runner and I was mildly amused that two soloists were down on the ground for her but it could’ve happened to anyone, we didn’t think twice about being able to help her. We wished her luck and kept going. Thunder had been a constant background noise by this point and Crowsnest Mountain was tucked deep into dark blue grey clouds that just kept getting thicker. That was exactly where we were headed. This day might change drastically, I thought and I made a note to pick up a second jacket at the transition.
Like every leg I had a nice downhill to come into transition so I put a little extra crispness into my movements, zoomed through, and we got to work. I mentioned the jacket but Ryne said the rain wouldn’t last, I’d probably be okay. Despite a little clunkiness in my stride due to my hip flexors tightening up I was still moving really well and was comfortable with his prediction. The air was still warm and I had my emergency gear. Sometimes it was just better to get wet. I was out and running in under two minutes.
Leg 5
The run along the road for the first few kms was happily uneventful. Just an easy running pace watching the rain move in, a slight steady climb. I turned off from the road as it really started to settle in, puddles forming in the quad tracks. Mud and puddles was the theme of this leg. A beautiful, rolling, evergreen quad track section that alternated roots with giant muddy puddles with steep edges, avoiding them was useless. I have to confess as everyone has been saying that it was too bad about the conditions on this leg…but I loved this part. Sadly this is where I dropped Eric for the rest of the day, he was such a joy to run with. I kept checking my back hoping he’d catch up. But I was feeling good, my legs loosened up and I was plenty warm in just a singlet and shorts. A few times I whooped out loud and danced over the roots, hardly noticing the puddles, just went straight through. I’m sure I slowed down some but I didn’t feel it, and I didn’t look at my watch save once when it beeped into the 100km mark around 11 hours, I celebrated by myself right there on that trail. I didn’t really even consider using the mud as an excuse to slow down or adjust my time goals. I knew it might slow me down. But I can be apathetic to a fault about those kind of things that are out of my control and on this day the mud just didn’t phase me. Stick to the plan and push where you can, I told myself. By the time I joined the road I was paying attention again. I knew this part well and I knew I’d be through there again on Leg 6, but then in the dark. So I paid attention to the conditions and picked out where the best lines on that section were so it could hopefully be helpful later. It did end up paying off, even just in a small way.
·       END OF LEG 5
Ryne at work-Always keeping me on track
End of leg 5
·       RYNE AT WORK – Always keeping me on track
·       ON TO LEG 6
Leg 6. I was ready for it. I’d ran Leg 6 the Sunday before the race and I was glad I did. I knew exactly what to expect, it was now all just doused in water and heading into darkness. That was okay, I was focused. Someone mentioned I’d gained time on Dave on Leg 5 and I guess I wasn’t surprised. But right then I was focused on chasing the light. I knew I wanted to get over the high point on the course and down the washed out rock garden of descent before I needed my lamp. I had ground to cover. Ryne gave me my time goal and I immediately thought it was too generous but reminded myself that it was ugly out there and 36km is still a long way. Still, I had it in my mind to better it.

On to leg 6
I put work into the first 10km, ran like I was being chased. The first half of the leg has pretty much all of the 1100m of climbing on the leg and plenty of rocky wash outs. Knowing it was going to get colder I was pushing in the calories and eyeing my pace constantly. It’s giving me a headache recalling the focus I had through this section! But once I crested that ridge at the highest point in the course I let out another whoop. It was still light enough to see the spectacular view and the gnarly downhill just ahead. I felt like I could relax a little. Still moving well, I ate up the rest of that leg. The slippery conditions required some patience so I focused on taking care of myself before the final push. I came in 52 minutes ahead of Ryne’s projected leg time.
On the surface I felt calm arriving at the transition for the last time. But my eyes felt a little too wide, there was an energy and emotion that was threatening to bubble over and I didn’t know if it would manifest in tears or laughter if I let it out. The crowd was amazing and overwhelming, I kept hearing that Dave was only minutes ahead of me. I was surprised…but I kind of wasn’t. I cracked a sugar free redbull and downed half of it, giggling for no reason. I had to go. Last year’s winner, Vincent Bouchard, had been close by the transitions all day. He was crewing for Eric. “Vincent!” I yelled, “I just crushed your time on Leg 6!” How do I have any friends left?
Ryne gave me 90 minutes to go and said he’d see me at the finish. I knew exactly what was out there, I’d done this leg a handful of times before. Never in the dark but I didn’t even notice that anymore. I started the climb, noticing a headlamp and thinking maybe it could be Dave’s. It was high up on the hill and I felt I had a lot of work to do to get there. The climb felt good, just longer than expected. I was passed by a relay runner or two, they were kind enough to offer encouragement and congratulations. I recognized the turn that ended the climb and was relieved to start running again. And then immediately regretted it. It’s not a good race report without some physical struggle, so this short part was mine. The rocks seemed like impossible obstacles and the grade was too steep for my body to take at that point. I was openly crying, cursing, knowing I was slowing on this section, stumbling over every rock. The gritty mud I’d been carrying from Leg 5&6 dug into my ankles and suddenly my toes were banged up to the point that I knew I had blood pooling under the nails. I tried to calm myself, knowing I was reacting too strongly and needed to stay calm, it would soon get gentler. I could walk it in at this point if I had to. Almost there, deep breath. I started to pick it back up on the smoother single track and by the gravel road to the halfway point I was back in rhythm. Another welcome climb to take the pressure off my hips and feet and I knew the way from there. Lovely single track. The first sign of town and the turn down onto the road. Accelerate. Stay smooth. A light bobbed down the road and as I passed it I realized it was Ryne. I tried to hold back an emotional sob. He recognized me and started shouting encouragement. I felt the words but they fell without any real meaning. Eyes ahead. Smooth downhill and a few turns to the finish. I saw nothing. I felt so much, mostly relief. Definitely pride. I’d accomplished more than I thought possible that day. I dared to put down some goals that scared the hell out of me and then trusted myself when I woke up that morning and knew that day was going to be something special.
This picture makes me cringe a bit, it was
such a personal moment, I forgot everyone
was watching
With my dad and brother at the end. As a born
and raised Southern Alberta girl this race was
pretty special to me
I hadn’t let myself linger over thoughts of the finish line all day. But here it was, now I could savour it. My Dad and my brother were there at the finish line, the first time they’ve ever seen me race. It was such a special moment to share with them. More hugs and congratulations. Finally I saw Dave back in the crowd a bit, the first time I’d seen him since the start. He looked like he’d used the mud as war paint or camouflage, his face was smeared with it and he had that same wild look that I felt. We hugged, had our moment. Dave it really wasn’t about you, but man I was happy to have someone to chase. It gave me something to hurt for on that last 10km and it was totally worth it. You completely earned your win and I was genuinely happy to come that close. 
Finally caught the bugger!
2015 Canadian 100 mile champions at the
awards ceremony
I’ve received the rock start treatment since that day and I really just want to express my gratitude to everyone involved, at the race and behind the scenes and throughout my training. And especially the volunteers and the people who wok so hard throughout the year to put this race together. Your efforts are so worth it and much appreciated. The cheers, the support, and the advice, it has meant so much to me. Let’s do it again soon!
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