I stared with concern at the loonie sitting at the bottom of the toilet – I had dropped my bus fare down the shitter and was worried it was a sign of the day to come. About to undertake the Triple Crown, a crazy challenge that consists of running from downtown Canmore, up, down and between East End of Rundle (2530m) – also known as EEOR, Ha Ling Peak (2407m) and Mount Lady MacDonald (2606m), I was honestly feeling apprehensive. Since the Wildhorse Traverse (see Wildhorse Traverse 50k: It Took a Wild Goose To Tame the Wild Horse blog post) three weeks earlier, I had spent way too much time at work, hadn’t run much or long, and had just returned from a week at sea level. This attempt would not crush any speed records – a friend of mine who runs at a similar pace had recently done it in ten hours, a time I’d be more than happy with. I needed to bag miles and hills for upcoming races and I figured that with a distance of approximately 40km and an elevation gain around 3200m, this was exactly what I needed. Though worried I was taking this too lightly and tackling more than I could handle, I figured that even if I only managed the first two peaks, it would be a stellar training run. I had wanted to attempt it for a long time and in a busy world filled with commitments and other non-running related ventures, this was my window and I fully intended to take it. Carpe Diem.
The bus dropped me downtown Canmore where I met GoatInTraining (a running buddy who was about to tackle her first 50k at the Broken Goat a few weeks later) – she also needed miles and elevation and decided to tag along for the first two peaks. SpeedyOne would join us at the EEOR trailhead to climb it with us, provide water refills but then go home and rest as she was racing Rundle’s Revenge 50k the next morning (like myself, she has a hard time with the concept of tapering). We started our watches (it was 8:30 and a 10 hour finish would get me just in time for dinner at my friend’s place) and began the long ascent towards the Gap, quickly gaining the Spray Lakes Road, a relentless uphill that never flattens out, with pavement eventually turning to a dusty dirt ordeal where one can expect an encounter with sheep, falling rocks and mad drivers. GoatInTraining was such sweet company – I’ve come to really cherish times I run with friends rather than on my own, the shared adventures feeling way more meaningful. This challenge would not be the same on my own – I might have pushed harder but my soul would have felt empty.
We paced ourselves to conserve energy but never stopped to walk, carrying a conversation that kept our minds off what seemed like a never ending climb (I hate uphills) and within an hour we had reached the trailhead where we hooked up with our friend. Unless you’re an extremely fit God-of-Running (which many Canmore folks happen to be but I’m not one of them) the peaks of the Triple Crown are not an easy run. Featuring lots of elevation gained over a short distance, at times on technical terrain, a fast-paced power hike is often the preferred way to go. We got our poles out and settled into a solid pace all the way to the top, rewarded by stunning views of surrounding mountains. From up there, I could see the other objectives of the day and ThinkTooMuch, my brain monkey, made an immediate appearance. “This is insane. I mean, look at what lies ahead! You can’t seriously think of doing this”. I wondered. Quite seriously. Though I knew I had ran much longer with more elevation gain on the R2R2R back in March, I calmed ThinksTooMuch down by reminding him that stopping after two peaks was an option and sent him back in the depths of my mind. If I wished to succeed, I could not allow a brain monkey to torment me.
A true Canmore Triple Crown requires you to start at the Georgetown Inn downtown, climb all three mountains, take a photo on each summit to post on social media as a proof that you were there and then return to your starting point to claim glory. My attempt would not be anything to rave about so I figured there was no need to make this “official” and that anywhere on the valley bottom would qualify as a proper start (the bus stop) – we did snap a few pictures and I posted one to my Facebook page, mostly to find myself accountable and make me think twice about quitting when things would get less pleasant later in the day. The clock was ticking and we didn’t linger on the summit, returning the way we came, the steep trail reminding me that my technical downhills required a lot of speed work and that I should consider using shoes with more aggressive soles for this type of terrain. Before long we were back at SpeedyOne’s car and parted ways: I felt so grateful she had joined us and wished she could have carried on but did not want to compromise her race in any way and encouraged her to go rest her legs. Rest legs. Maybe I should have been doing the same rather than pursuing this silly feat. I had committed a while ago to a scramble up the main peak of Mount Rundle with AwesomeNonRunner (boyfriend) and NimbleGrasshopper (visiting from Toronto) the very next day, a 1500m climb up steep slopes, and was now trying to ignore how bagged I would be post Triple Crown. I chased the thought before the monkey seized the opportunity to remind me how unreasonable I was – we like to think we are unbreakable, right?
GoatInTraining and I made our way to the second peak, Ha Ling, a short distance away. It was now late morning and things had gotten busy – our steady ascent consisted mostly of passing large groups of hikers and we were both very happy when we reached the top and found an available rock to sit on. It was a total zoo, the “Spectacle de Marde” one can expect when hiking a popular trail on a weekend sunny day. We had a quick bite to eat, took the mandatory selfie and retraced our steps, winding through the crowd politely (we didn’t want to be “runholes”) and found ourselves back on the road in no time (this was a less technical trail than EEOR that one could run down easily) happy to leave the mayhem behind. We entered the cloud of dust the Spray Lakes Road had turned to, hoping we would still be visible to vehicles speeding past us, and ran the long way back to the valley bottom. The temperature had risen and we could both feel the heat – I started craving watermelon and was focused on making it to the grocery store for a much needed improvised aid station. Sadly, this is where GoatInTraining left me to finish my quest alone. I stocked up on goodies and a few litres of cold water to refill my bottles and sat at a picnic table outside the store – I was allowing myself a proper break. At this point, there was not a doubt in my mind that I could reach the final peak, but I felt lonely. I was already missing the companionship of my buddies.
To reach the trailhead of Lady Mac, I had to run a few kilometres uphill on road, in the heat of day. I took a few walking breaks. The warmth and the miles were beginning to get to me. I jogged passed a familiar face on the Cougar Creek trail, WoodyWoodrow, who looked as fresh as ever, even after finishing a mountain bike race only a few hours before. A brief exchange of words (mostly mumbling on my part) got her all excited about what I was up to and she offered me a much needed cheer that boosted my energy just as I started up the mountain. My pace had definitely slowed but I kept climbing steady, allowing a few stops to chat with lovely folks along the way. I could not believe I was about to pull this off, beyond proud of myself. Of course, that’s when Murphy decided to crash the party – half an hour from the top, the streak of super power I had enjoyed came to an abrupt end. My legs were cramping up and I immediately remembered the Broken Goat 50k ordeal from a couple summers ago – it had hurt so much I had been completely incapacitated for a while. “You’re doomed!” announced ThinksTooMuch. “Turn around, go back. Game over.” There was no way I was quitting now, even if it meant I had to walk down in brutal pain, slowly, the entire way. A quick glance at my watch left me worried: I did have people waiting for my return, counting on a ten hour finish. I pushed through the discomfort, massaging and stretching my legs every few hundred metres. The heat was killing me and the cramps would come and go, from total agony to much needed release: every break from pain I got, I pushed on higher.
I finally arrived at the “teahouse” platform (there is no teahouse, just a plain old platform) and collapsed on all fours: I was done. Gently rubbing my sore quads, I looked at the ridge above – I had fully intended to make it up to the true summit but since the challenge only required me to go as far as the point I’d reached, my day was over. I needed to get myself off this mountain and knew that the descent would be tedious and lengthy should my leg situation worsen.
Luckily, within minutes after I had food, water and a salt tablet, the cramps let go of their hurtful grip and I began to feel better. I slowly proceeded to descend, fully expecting the excruciating pain to return but it never did and I was able to pick up the pace to a full run and enjoy the sweet singletrack of the lower section. I was tired but thrilled at the thought of what I had accomplished. Beyond this trail there would be less than 3km of road, mostly downhill, to complete the loop at the bus stop. I would then have to either run back up the way I came, find a cab or beg for a ride so that I could go enjoy post run drinks and dinner with AwesomeNonRunner on the sunny deck of our friend’s house located near the base of Lady Mac. I looked at the time and ran faster: they were waiting for me and here I was, obsessively determined to run back to town. I seem to be programmed that way: obey the rules, never go off course, stick to the plan. The closer I was getting to the trailhead, the less this made sense. I felt silly to extend a run simply to say I had completed a loop while folks who cared about me (and worried about my well being) had kindly been cooking a fabulous meal for part of the afternoon and were waiting for me to show up so that we could hang out and spend time together. I had bagged my three peaks, some in the company of GoatInTraining and SpeedyOne who had tagged along as support and made my day so much better. My watch read a ridiculous amount of miles and elevation and it looked like I was going to be right around the ten hour mark, as I had hoped for. Mother Nature had granted me clear skies for beautiful views and my body allowed me to reach my goal. There was only one place I needed to be – with my people. I was lonely, I missed my friends and I felt there was nothing to gain in continuing this pursuit. Reaching bottom, I bounced off the trail, ran along Cougar Creek to the roundabout where I veered up towards my friend’s house, climbing away from downtown, the bus stop and the end of the loop. This absolutely felt like the right thing to do and I pushed through a final relentless uphill to finally find myself below the deck I had dreamed of since morning. I let out a huge grunt. There they were, drinks in hand, cheering the tired and sweaty runner. My watched died seconds before I was done: 38.5k in 9:55 (running straight to my friend’s house ended up being barely over a kilometre less than if I’d finished in town) – nothing to brag about in this valley of high performance but I felt damn satisfied. I had earned my Crown.
Sitting in the sun, while enjoying some much needed Fizziotherapy (sparkling wine I’d picked up in Naramata post Wildhorse Traverse), I pondered about my day and what it had taken to get there. Running long distances and racing ultras definitely has its selfish moments. In order to succeed, one must train many hours and compromise constantly. You leave your loved one alone in bed, early on weekend mornings, and disappear entire days, venturing deep in the mountains to claim mile after mile. You bargain for a later departure so you can squeeze a run in. You turn down offers from friends to go do other activities because you just have to get that long run done. And in return, they support you. They encourage you and are proud of what you accomplish. They read your blog posts, like your trail images, follow your races and adventures. They cook you meals that recharge you and top up your glass with beverages that numb your tired and aching body. They worry about you and help you through your injuries. If you’re fortunate to have running buddies, they too are there for you in numerous ways – they may alter their training to match yours, pace you at an event or simply join you on a crazy adventure you set your heart upon.
I know what you all do for me, that you are there and that you care. I am so grateful. This crown I just earned, I owe it to you all. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.