Meet Derek (YEG)

During one of our pre-hill warm up runs Derek and I were talking about the races we were considering for the upcoming year. Derek shared that he was choosing to tackle a race event that scared him and that made me super excited! Each subsequent Friday morning, as we made our way down River Valley Road, I’d pester Derek with endless questions about his early, long, weekend training runs. I was inspired by his dedication, how he created the time to fit in his training and still make it to birthday parties, family dinners, and have play time with his girls. Being able to witness this incredible journey from the initial goal setting to celebratory hugs upon his return was a privilege.

Go on, take the time to meet Derek & we’ll see you all Friday at Walterdale Hill 6 am.   Until next time…SMILE! J

Just over a year ago I started to think about what my goals for the upcoming summer should be. For 2016, it was to run my first half-marathon. In 2017, the goal was to run a full marathon. I was stuck wondering, do I do another marathon? Or, do I try something different.

I returned to two blogs written by John Kelly, the 2017 Barkley Marathons finisher. I HIGHLY recommend these two posts – I come back to them every now and again. The first is “Failing with Purpose” (http://www.randomforestrunner.com/2017/06/failing-with-purpose/). In this post he talks about setting a goal where failure is an option. It’s not the desired outcome but the goal should be just outside your comfort zone and something that will require you to reach. As he puts it, this is where you will find growth and start to find where your limits really are. The second post is a follow up entitled, “The Goldilocks Difficulty” (http://www.randomforestrunner.com/2017/07/the-goldilocks-difficulty/). This post digs deeper into choosing a level of difficulty for your goal. Too hard, you will end up in the “ragequite” zone. Too low, you end up in the “zone of apathy” and you won’t be driven. Both zones end in zero growth. It’s pretty similar to what Jen is forever going on about – be comfortable with being uncomfortable. All of my following thoughts and decisions would be based on that framework.

I had heard of the Squamish 50/50 a while back thanks to the Ginger Runner’s YouTube show. I remember thinking how awesome it would be to run through a rainforest. But I didn’t give it much thought at that time, seeing as I hadn’t even run a marathon. It returned to mind when I was thinking of possible races. However, it scheduled for my birthday weekend, and I didn’t want to away from the family during that time. I never thought in a million years my wife would travel for one of my races. Not to mention the last time I brought up doing an ultra, she threatened divorce. Discounting it as an option was a bit disappointing because I knew many of the Edmonton crew would be heading down for that weekend, and races are always way more fun with friends. However, the race got into my head and I kept on returning back to it.

So, mostly in jest and with a bit of hope, on the night before race registration, I asked my wife what she thought about going to Squamish so I could run a race. I had thought the likelihood of her actually agreeing to this were extremely small and was quite surprised by her answer, “if that is what you want to do for your birthday then, sure!” I even clarified that is could be a two-day race. So with her approval, all that was left for me to decide the distance.

I think it would be good to point out that up to this time, the longest and only trail race I had done was Leg 3 of Sinister 7 when I was a part of one of the OMC teams. Despite that, I felt I had a pretty good idea of where I was and where I could mindset some training. I will admit that during my decision-making process, I may have obsessively analyzed race results and compared them to some of my past runs. There was likely a spreadsheet or two created as well. Like I said, I wanted to pick a distance that would make me question my ability to finish it. The 50K just wasn’t that. I did have questions about the 50M. I was relatively certain given proper training and a good run, a 50M finish would be possible. The final option was the 50/50, 50M on Saturday and 50K on Sunday. I had loads of questions, could I finish the 50M?, likely…. What does running for most the day feel mindset? What does it feel like to run another 50K the following day? Would I recover in enough? I mean my legs were tired for days following Sinister.

Knowing Steve Baker had finished the 50/50 multiple times I thought I would talk with him to get a better sense of the course and try to figure out what to sign up for. So, on the day of registration I caught up to him on the hill where he was more than willing to tell me all about what I could expect on course. I sensed a tad bit of doubt when I mentioned trying the 50/50, and really, why shouldn’t he look at me wide-eyed? I had never run an ultra and only just finished my first full. He did leave me with one piece of advice with regards to the 50/50 – “don’t just go there to see how far you get, go there to finish.” This is only the first instance of many where the tribe proved to be a valuable asset in achieving my goals and giving me the extra push I needed.

My talk with Steve made me question my ability to finish the 50/50. I was left with the impression that maybe it was not the best option. The last thing I wanted to do was take a spot away from someone else who really wanted it and likely, had more business being there than me. But again, the tribe was there ready to give me the push I needed. On November 24, 2017 at OMC, with the registration screen open on my phone, Madison and Andi were there egg me on and hit the 50/50 option. With that, I was officially registered, not only for my first Ultra, but also my second! What sealed the deal for me was knowing there would be a ton of Edmonton runners running that weekend, and I knew I would be running with someone I knew at any point in the race, which would greatly increase my chances of success.

The next step was to fully understand exactly what I got myself into. Once again, the tribe was there for me. Keith was an immense help in filling in a few blanks. He gave advice about pacing, training, and very importantly, race day nutrition. But, as it would turn out, his biggest contribution was the recommendation to have crew support. This was something I had considered but wasn’t going to do, mainly because Squamish is know to be a very well supported race with amazing volunteers.

December came and went, but when January started I decided that I needed to start training if I was going to have a chance to even attempt the race. So I put a call out to see who, if anyone, wanted to meet at 5:30 am on a Sunday for a 25 km run along the Half-Ass route. Again, to my surprise, Joanne and Sean were game. We ended that run crossing the new Walterdale bridge right at sunrise. I was always surprised to have at least a few people who would join me for these early morning runs. The runs were always in the dark, and always cold. But they were great. They gave me the opportunity to get to know some people better and meet new people. As an aside, if you ever want some to run with, put a post up on Facebook in the social group or YEGG.FITT. By doing this I’ve had the opportunity to run with people that I literally met that morning, and it’s truly been a highlight my running over the last few years. Throughout my training, I still had many doubts. But I had a mindset that the 50M was non-negotiable, it was going to be done no matter what. However, my mindset for the 50K was still, get up and go as far as you can, but be sure you are at that start line Sunday morning. That changed a Friday morning in January. Jen and Nadim called me down for the positivity award. I was recognized for setting this big goal and going outside my comfort zone. Running back to my truck I thought, I would feel pretty bad if I didn’t actually finish. It was a dumb thought because I received the award for going after the goal, not the ultimate outcome but it was the push I needed to drop the “just-see-what-happens-attitude”, and focus solely on finishing it all.

I typically tell only a select few or no one at all when I set goals like this. Having every single person in the NP morning crowd know made things different. Both the interest and the encouragement from the tribe ramped up. The tribe is always encouraging but this time it shifted up an extra gear. It created its own feedback loop that I just fed on. The more effort I put out there, the more encouragement came back. It was great, and it certainly helped me push through some of the harder days even on long solo runs.

Over those next 7ish months the weekend long runs went from 20ish km up to 40 to 44ish km. I spent hours upon hours on my feet, often waking up at 4 am. Alone, with a friend who decided to join, or with NP, NP Pre-runs, Need for Speed workouts, and Croissant Club. Some training highlights were finally getting through complete laps of Walterdale, the first time I went for a 5 hr run, surprising myself by running Leg 6 at Sinister in 4.5 hr (way below my prediction), and of course, finishing the Ol’96er. There were tons of small incremental improvements that I honestly couldn’t see until they came up and slapped me in the face.

In an effort to find someone to crew me, I sent a message to Verner (a former NP Canadian who had relocated to Vancouver). While I contacted him to see if he knew anyone who might be at the race, he ended up offering up himself to come out and crew. I was absolutely stoked he was coming out. I knew even if everything was going to shit he would at least make it fun shit. Not to mention he has his own ultra experience that would prove valuable. Initially, I had the impression that he would be around for Saturday and I would be on my own for Sunday. But, nope, he gave up an entire weekend to help me chase down this goal by crewing me. He was even willing to sleep in his car in the parking lot to do it (for the record he did end up in our hotel room on the floor).

Having Verner there likely saved my race, or at the very least made it way smoother than it could have been. His last minute advice on nutrition and general race planning caught a few mistakes before they even had a chance to be made. And, when I did make a mistake and didn’t eat enough and dropped into a low, he was there to patch me up and get me back. I can’t say how much I appreciated his help that weekend. I can only hope that I can pay it back one day.

I’m not going to go into gory detail about the race and make this an in-depth race report, but all things considered, race weekend turned out to be truly a victory lap(s). A true celebration of all of the work I put in. I still had many doubts the night before the 50M, so much so my wife had to tell me to just breathe. But, that was ok. In essence, that was exactly what this goal was about. I wanted to be uncomfortable, I wanted to have doubts.

Just as I imagined during the months of training, throughout the 25 hrs on course I got to run with a number of friends. It was amazing to be able to share that trail with them, each pushing for their own goals and reasons from which I also drew strength. One of the clearest memories during the race was when I was feeling low, tired, without food, and unsure how much further I had to go until the next aid. I had dropped off the trail and into a clearing that led up a small hill. I could see a few people standing at the top of the hill cheering on all the runners. Part way up the small hill I heard the familiar scream – it was Katie! And rest of the cheering just got louder and louder. Almost everyone at the top of the hill was from Edmonton, and everyone was offering their loudest support. I still felt like shit at that moment, but my spirits were lifted!

From there I walked/ran the stairs up to Quest and sat down where Verner began to put me back together. Meanwhile, Michelle was off trying to find my wife and kids, as I wasn’t going to leave before seeing them. After all, seeing them was a big part of the reason I kept moving in the first place. The memory sticks out for me so much, because it captures the weekend in a nutshell. Despite feeling like shit and down-and-out, friends and family were there to help and support me through it all. The weekend ended much like most of my training, running the trail with friends. I was with Michael Cameron for much of the last leg, and Verner met me at the final corner for the final stretch. Coming up to the park I was amazed to see everyone at the finish and hear their cheers. While normally it’s Gary Robbins at the finish line waiting to hand out hugs, for me it was Verner, in his trademark pickle costume that he’d worn all weekend. It was very appropriate actually.

In the end, I finished both the 50 miles and the 50 km and got that blue hat. I was one of two people who completed their first and second ultra that weekend.

Pic from Squamish 50, Taken by: http://www.brianmccurdyphotography.com/

I want to say how extremely grateful I am for being able to have my family with me. Somehow my wife managed both a 2- and 4-year-old, drove from aid to aid in a town she didn’t know (which proved very challenging), and with a few “accidents”, made almost every single aid station they had access to. Ending the 50 mile day with a family picture was a great way to finish. I’m sure my wife could write a race report of just her own experience. It was an amazing amount of work on her part, and I am of the belief, she did more work me. That said, I’m not sure she will do it again, but I can only hope.

Pic from Squamish 50, Taken by: http://www.brianmccurdyphotography.com/

There is no way this would of have happened without my family or the community that surrounded me throughout. I’m still blown away by the support I got during this endeavour. I couldn’t believe how many people were standing at the finish line, or the number of messages I got via text and Facebook, or the congratulations I received upon my return to NP. There were so many individuals who helped that I can’t even begin to list them all and thank them here. The NP community proved time and time again that they were there to support me and would go to great lengths to do so.

Here’s what I’ve learned that I can pass along to you:

Go choose something that is going to make you doubt a bit, I can assure you that there will be a hundred or so friends standing beside you. I can tell you from experience, from walking into Commonwealth alone over 2 years ago, this group has supported me through my first half, first full, and now this. The NP community has forever reshaped my views of what community can be, and what I’m capable of doing. All I had to do was let it happen and #justshowup.

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