A (not so) long time ago, on a trail far, far away…
I have returned to Rossland to join a group of rebel trail runners in the ultimate fight against the DNF Empire who have summoned the evil and mighty BrokenGoat to seize the Seven Summits Trail. In an attempt to tame the beast, the PACE Alliance had orchestrated three simultaneous battles: the short but brutal 12k that begins with a nasty vertical ascent of the Death Hill, the spectacular 25k featuring the best of it all yet more demanding than one would expect, and the gruelling 50k, a combination of the first two battles, guaranteed to push any fighter to its very limits. The Runawan (Jedi child runners in training) would take part in a small invasion near Base, hoping to distract the maleficent Goat with their cuteness and endless energy. Known for punching athletes in the face without any mercy, the horned villain had the advantage of steep and technical terrain with extremely hot temperatures in the forecast – everyone knew this promised to be an epic day and I, along with my sidekick LittleGoat, hoped to defeat the enemy who had left us bonked and broken two years earlier.
The PACE Wars saga began in the spring with Episode IV: A New Bear, where following a strong winter of training in cold and harsh conditions, I confronted the strenuous NimbleBear on a roller coaster of hills and exciting singletrack. Throughout this episode, I had to fight with my inner demon Darth ThinksTooMuch (brain monkey) who desperately tried to target my low self-esteem and tormented my mind relentlessly, but I found the power of the RunForce within and was able to hang on tight and earn a first place pie.
The DNF Empire unleashed havoc on the landscape, a game changer for Episode V: The WildHorse Strikes Back. Heavy rain events and floods resulted in race course changes as well as adding a few extra challenges on the trail that, combined with warm temperatures, made for a very tough battle against the enemy. The PACE Alliance did everything they could to help rebels tackle the wicked WildHorse, who was determined to buck off the course any runner it would encounter. The fight took place deep in the mountainous jungle of Planet OkanaganPark where racers, under a burning sun, had to navigate through the bush while dodging piles of bear crap and giant puddles filled with mud that sucks its prey into the depths of the earth. Darth ThinksTooMuch attempted to turn me to the Dark Side by trying to make me quit before I could reach the PACE Alliance Aid Station 2, but JungleLifeSaver came out of nowhere to my rescue with encouraging words and some much needed company up the last punishing hill – I gratefully made it. Wonderful rebel volunteers helped me get back on track allowing me to travel at lightspeed through the KVR galactic corridor and reach Base in a satisfying time where I medicated heavily with a local concoction called Gewürztraminer. This battle had left most rebel runners slightly damaged and fatigued. The DNF Empire had chased tight on our tails and I needed rest before the final instalment of this trilogy.
Six weeks later, following some down time in the humid sea level world of Quebexica and intense Jedi training in the high terrain of the Rockies that earned me a Triple Crown, I felt ready for my final task – defeat the Goat and walk away unbroken. I knew I would not be in the lead pack as the Alliance had recruited some strong fighters for this ultimate battle, but I was toying with the idea of a possible sub 7:00 finish (though deep inside I knew that was a stretch). My first attempt had been brutal: after a great first half, the evil Goat had gotten the better of me using the DNF Empire’s secret weapon, the Death Hill, and I had barely escaped with a major case of bonk – leg cramping, poor nutrition, water shortage resulting in dehydration and major fatigue. Jedi Master Fitzy had found me on the trail, deep in the forest of EndorPhin, drowning in tears of disappointment, and shared some wise words: Forget this moment you must not, for happen again it will and bounce back always you shall. The Master went on to fetch watermelon to help myself and other hurting rebels (which earned him the legendary name WatermelonGuy) and I was able to regain a bit of power from the RunForce, managing to painfully reach Base with nothing left, but amazed to have pulled it off. I opted for the 25k battle the following year and fought brilliantly, but I had unfinished business with the BrokenGoat and (foolishly) decided to make a return.
Upon arrival in the Southern world of Rossland, AwesomeNonRunner (boyfriend) and I set camp at our friends’ house and enjoyed some good times in their company. I made my way to Base where the PACE Alliance, led by MostAwesomeRaceDirector, was holding a briefing for all rebels who planned on chasing the Goat the next day. She warned us against the challenges we should expect, preparing us as best as possible to avoid casualties – where to refuel and hydrate, course changes, mandatory gear. As always, it was great having her at the helm and I felt we were in good hands. I glanced around at the surrounding crowd, happy to see I would run along soldiers that had made a difference for me during previous battles. There was GoatSignHolder (he held a sign of the race logo for the entire first BrokenGoat combat) who had tagged along for a good stretch of our first Goat attempt, kindly offering downhill running tips and who I’d seen again at pretty much every other PACE Alliance events; MountainBikeLegs with whom I’d narrowly escaped the WildHorse’s BearShitAlley; and HillChat, another PACE Frequent Fighter that had temporarily kept Darth ThinksTooMuch at bay by engaging in a nice conversation while climbing on the steep back of the NimbleBear. The CanmoreTrailCulture Squadron had their usual large delegation – with folks such as PrincessLiza, and Jedi Master Fitzy, they would certainly be leaders in the slaughter of the horned beast. Also part of that delegation was PACE Soldier Marta, a rebel with great promise who was getting personally trained by MostAwesomeRaceDirector, and with whom I had fought the NimbleBear and conquered the GrandOven. I mingled briefly with the troupes, the crowd dispersing quickly as everyone was keen to return to their camps to get some rest before the Big Day.
With a forecast of endless blue bird days, the one thing I absolutely never expected on this quest was to get cold and wet, so imagine my surprise when I emerged at sunrise from my friends’ dwelling and found myself under an overcast sky. We boarded the transportation barges that flew us over to the Seven Summits Trailhead and by the time we all gathered at the battle front, the clouds had thickened, releasing a cool drizzle. The DNF Empire was once again trying to unsettle the rebels by throwing a curve ball, but little did they know that this could actually work to our advantage: providing the rain did not turn into a full blown storm, cooler temperatures would help us run faster, making it easier to defeat the mighty BrokenGoat. I found GoatInTraining (of the CanmoreTrailCulture Squadron) who was about to tackle her first 50k – she certainly had not chosen the easiest battle for her initiation and I admired her for it. We had trained together on a few occasions and I was confident that she would come out head high and victorious. The gun was about to go off and I reluctantly removed my jacket knowing fully that the heat would soon be upon us and as the pompoms flew up in the air, I wished my friend a great race and charged ahead, following the tight pack of eager rebels. Game on.
The crusade began with a steady but mostly runnable uphill (7km) that tops out on a beautiful ridge in the rugged alpine zone. In order to conquer the Goat under seven hours, I had to hold a pace of just over 7km/h. With the Death Hill coming near the end, I knew I couldn’t afford falling behind, even if there were easier downhill sections to come – I needed to reach that ridge within the first hour. My legs felt heavy. I kept hoping that after a few miles I would warm up and find my groove but it just wasn’t happening, I wasn’t feeling it. There were disturbances in the RunForce and I had trouble focusing – I was exhausted and on the edge of a burn out at work, my mind was preoccupied by life changing decisions to make, and I was worried about AwesomeNonRunner who had a little mishap the night before. As excited as I had been to return to the Goat, I no longer knew if I really wanted to be there. Truth is, I was tired. Of running, of training, of working, of pleasing, of performing, of over achieving, of everything. Up ahead, I noticed a lady who was wearing the same colour shirt as mine, walking swiftly up the trail, using her poles. She had no trouble staying ahead of another woman who was running behind her. I quickly popped out my poles and switched to a fast power walk, rapidly gaining terrain, passing the runner and settling in behind SameShirt. We marvelled at the wildflowers and the stunning scenery, both grateful for the light rain and cooler temperatures. Her positive energy was reminding me why I was there and brought me back to life. She would play a key role in my day’s success – until the Death Hill ascent, she and I were never far from each other, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, some sections together, shouting happy cries and encouragements.
The first peak we summited, Mount Plewman, was covered in a carpet of colourful flowers and had no defined trail – rebels had to follow flags for guidance through the tricky terrain. From the top, I got a good view of Jabba The OldGlory, a monstrous giant looming on the skyline, awaiting to torture us. How could MostAwesomeRaceDirector send us straight into that villain’s lair?!? To make things worse, the sky had darkened, the wind picked up and I heard the sound of rolling thunder in the distance. Crap, the last thing I wanted was the war to be interrupted due to things “getting serious” up here – I had opted for a full Goat and I planned on getting it done. I ran uphill as much as my led legs would allow, switching to a fast power hike, as I scaled the exposed back of the rock creature. Wildflowers were abound, a joyful sight in this barren world. My elevation training was paying off and taking full advantage of cold temperatures that weren’t slowing me down, I topped out in howling winds and stood proudly on Jabba’s head.
PACE Alliance volunteers had setup a check point in a little cabin, offering licorice as a reward for crushing the beast. Dressed to survive a scorching sun, the small snowflakes drifting across the sky pushed me off this inhospitable rock mound as fast as I could. The out and backs were the best: while climbing you could cheer runners ahead that were returning, and on your descent, those that were making their way up. Master Fitzy was chasing the leaders and PrincessLiza pushing within the pack of fast females – the RunForce runs strong in the CanmoreTrailCulture family. I exchanged high fives with GoatSignHolder and HillChat before crossing paths with GoatInTraining, offering her a nice hug – she was looking strong. When I returned to the ridge junction, I checked my watch – I was still on target!
Sprinting freely along the ridge had always been my favourite section of BrokenGoat – my stride finally opened up and I pushed hard towards the first Alliance Aid Station, hearing the cheers of SameShirt not far ahead. Concerned about time, I quickly grabbed some water and electrolytes (the clouds were beginning to part and I knew the heat was bound to show up at some point) as well as a few mouthfuls of chips and watermelon, before continuing along to Record Ridge. Another out and back, I met a few more friendly souls and arrived at the check point in much better shape than I had been two years ago.
The return, mostly downhill, went fast though my legs would come to a halt on the ups – SameShirt encouraged me to keep pushing. I followed in her tracks and side by side we tackled a long uphill on a seemingly endless dirt road followed by a scramble up Granite Peak. JungleLifeSaver was waiting, camera in hand, proud to announce that it was pretty much all downhill from there (until the Death Wall, of course). We barrelled down the road returning for a second visit at Aid One where I had the happy surprise to see my buddy DancesWithGoats (she absolutely LOVES goats) who was part of the 25k assault and loving it. She wisely told me to stop worrying about AwesomeNonRunner and just be in the moment. The clock was ticking so I quickly grabbed my drop bag and got myself all sorted – during my war planning, I had decided to run with a technical and aggressive X-Wing shoe model that would be better for the rough terrain of the first section and switch to the more comfortable ride of the Y-Wing, providing more cushioning and a gentler ride, for the last segment.
Smaller pack, softer shoes and clean socks: I was ready to kick some goat’s ass. I couldn’t keep up to SameShirt’s pace (she is some sort of superhuman that was in the midst of running three 50k races in 14 days, which she placed 1st, 6th and 3rd, earning the Buck Me This Goat is KnackeredAward…) but I managed to stay close by, extremely happy to still have energy to run fast as this is where the Goat began tormenting me last time – I remembered struggling on the downhill, slowing down alarmingly as runner after runner passed me. I was having none of it, determined not to be overtaken by anyone and after leaving the steep road and enjoying the sweetest singletrack of the course, I arrived at Base where volunteers had cold water flowing from a hose to cool us down. The heat had definitely returned and I made sure I refilled all my bottles, knowing too well what was ahead.
I was quicker leaving the Aid Station than SameShirt but she quickly caught up and went on ahead, gaining towards the ultimate hurdle the Goat had to offer. I had dreaded the Death Hill all day: 38km into the run, this nasty, steep, vertical wall created by the Empire to destroy runners had nearly killed me the first time I tackled it, and now I was worried it might again. The clouds were gone, leaving the stage wide open for a burning sun to drain my energy and I quickly saw my sub 7:00 goal fade away. I am dying a slow death! I yelled out loud to no one in particular. The strangest thing happened – I heard a voice encouraging me: No, you are not. There is a nice flat switchback coming right up. It must have been a recently fallen Jedi Master that was guiding me (or a lovely lady picking huckleberries in the tall and dense shrubs I failed to see) but the “break” was short-lived and I was back on ridiculous terrain.
I gradually slowed down to a near halt (as the protagonist of this Star Wars satire, no better fitting name for me than Jedi Hillwalker) and a rebel gazelle caught up to me and passed, bounding upwards, seemingly unaffected by the steepness and heat. Leaning on my poles I felt a dark presence – Darth ThinksTooMuch was here. He stood silent in the middle of the trail, his runsaber glowing eerily, waiting for me to make a move. Why can’t I be strong like them? I lit my own runsaber wearily. I did not want to fight him, if only he would just disappear, leave my mind at peace. No matter how hard I train, this never gets easier. I can’t run up, I’m slow on the downs… I took a pathetic strike at him.
His weapon immediately blocked mine: I was feeling sorry for myself and he could sense it. You don’t want it enough, you give up easy, he barked. I had opened a door and he was jumping on the opportunity, engaging me into a vicious fight. Why can’t I tolerate heat – it has always affected me and made my life miserable on so many occasions. I was near tears. The heat is everyone’s weakness, you’re just making it your excuse, he claimed before throwing a nasty blow: You’re an old goat, you have no chance against the YoungOnes. They will always be faster. I frowned as I avoided his laser blade – good point. I know some older runners that kick some serious ass, but trying to keep up to a bunch of youngsters may not be the most realistic thing for me to do. Why was I even comparing myself to others?!? Amidst the main war, I was meant to fight my own battle, my personal goal… You will never attain your goal. You don’t have what it takes. I lowered my runsaber, pondering – What DID it take? Hadn’t I claimed multiple times that I would need a miracle to run that fast? So why was I suddenly so upset to see it out of reach? I had kept my pace on target all day, something to be proud of. Sure, I tolerated heat poorly, an unfortunate condition, but considering my overall good health, I had very little to be complaining about. So maybe I wasn’t strong enough to bounce up the Death Hill like a gazelle but I was still within the top ten female soldiers fighting the DNF Empire. And I had no intention to let it defeat me. I raised my blade high, defiantly. The more Darth ThinksTooMuch tried to turn me to the Dark Force of quitting, the more I pushed him backwards, up towards the summit. When we finally topped out, I realised that nobody else had passed me, I had no leg cramps, was well hydrated with lots of water still available and felt the RunForce strong within – it would carry me through to Base. Wasn’t that the only goal that mattered? I was kicking the Goat right back, a punch in its face, and with a mighty strike, I blew Darth ThinksTooMuch out of my mind.
I barely remembered any of the smooth singletrack that snaked its way down towards the last Aid Station and realized just how much I must have been out of it first time around – this was different and I was able to maintain a steady flow, attempting to keep up with OrangeShoes (the orange shoes were like a beacon to follow) who I had caught up to after surviving the Death Hill. A nice breeze offered a welcomed reprieve from the heat and I was able to get back on track with my pace, though I had unfortunately lost too much time to fully recover and beat the seven hour mark. Before long we entered the forest of EndorPhin where traces of the Dark Force of quitting were still lingering, remnants of an old fight, filling my mind with unpleasant memories. It was with great relief that I arrived at the supply post where rebel volunteers once again did not fail in setting me up for the final leg. I was getting quite tired and now that I was back at lower elevation, I could feel the suffocating heat, even in the shade. I savoured the watermelon knowing that the last 5km would be difficult: there was an unwelcomed road section and the route through the forest was windy, technical and featured more uphills than I was willing to handle. OrangeShoes disappeared ahead, leaving me alone to get through the final miles. Without Darth ThinksTooMuch to torment me, I felt content, pushing when I could and allowing a few hundred metres of walking when needed. When my watch beeped 50K, the clock read 6:58. Maybe the course was longer or perhaps my Suunto was slightly innacurate: it didn’t matter. I couldn’t help but shed a small tear and I actually patted myself on the back – not an official victory but good enough for me. I encountered and passed a few 12k soldiers also aiming for the end but surprisingly, no rebels from my group caught up – I was doing better than I thought. I focused on the task at hand and zoned in on the path, plowing ahead. JungleLifeSaver appeared on the trail (must be teleportation or something) and bearer of great news as usual, announced I had about a kilometre to go. I picked up pace and flew along the twisted track, soon hearing the victorious chants of the crowd awaiting at Base. I exploded out of the forest into tall grass where I could see the finish line down below, with MostAwesomeRaceDirector waiting, pompoms in hands, ready to offer a warm hug. Wow, was I ever happy to see her! I had conquered the Goat, unbroken. For me, this marked the end of a stunning trilogy of 50k races.
The CanmoreTrailCulture Squadron was there to cheer (they had quite a few remarkable performances under their belts, as could be expected) along with SameShirt, my Rossland friends and AwesomeNonRunner who seemed surprisingly well (I apparently worried for nothing). Knowing me best, he quickly found the beer and burger I had craved for the last few hours. DancesWithGoats, who had finished her 25k assault earlier, joined our brew fest and we sat in the sun, happy to be done, watching the familiar faces of other warriors as they returned to Base, finally free of the DNF Empire’s grip. I couldn’t leave until GoatInTraining was done – I wanted to be there when she crossed the finish line of her first 50k, so AwesomeNonRunner and I waited until I saw her pop out of the tall grass and run straight into the well deserved bear hug every finisher was given. I had a big one for her as well – I was so proud. There would be much to celebrate that night as rebel runners would gather for dinner, awards and festivities. I curled up in a cosy chair under the starry night at our friends’ house, glass of wine in hand, quiet and content. Sometimes when you’ve given enough, and life has taken a lot, the best reward you can gift yourself is some down time to reflect and process. Not many folks understand introverts, but I’ve stopped caring a long time ago…
The saga continues next fall with Episode VII: The Moose Awakens. It may be up to PACE Soldier Marta to save the universe as I will unfortunately not be able to join forces with the Alliance for this promising battle – a previous family commitment will send me Rogue Road on the hard pavement of the insular kingdom of Victoria. I sense through my inner RunForce that the PACE Wars will feature many more episodes – count on MostAwesomeRaceDirector and her team to come up with terrific new ways to fight against the DNF Empire who, no matter what, will always lurk somewhere in our runners’ lives. Whether in the lead, or fighting hard against the temptation of the Dark Side of quitting or even completely defeated, as long as we keep our heads high, give it all we have and enjoy heaps of fun, we will ALWAYS come out as winners.
May the RunForce be with you.
Wildflowers of the Broken Goat (photo courtesy of Nathan Karsgaard)
A huge thank you to Rene C. Unser and the entire PACE Trail Race Series team for organizing such a great event, to Nathan Karsgaard for the beautiful images (and kind words on the trail), my Rossland friends Ryan, Mandy, Emry and Mena for their wonderful hospitality, and AwesomeNonRunner for the endless support (and the beers and burgers). Congratulations to ALL runners who took part in this fierce battle against the DNF Empire and the Broken Goat 2017.