Deanne Runs : Preparing for a Solo Race
This past weekend I ran as a 54km soloist at Black Spur Ultra in Kimberley, BC. This is easily one of my favourite courses. Tons of single track, technical trails, gorgeous views and of course mountains. This year was a bit different; I had committed to getting one of my dear friends through the race, and I stuck with her to the finish line. I was also trying out new nutrition and furlong. Leg one started out with is going up the ski hill. I always laugh because everyone starts running across the start line, and then we all (except the elites) slow down to power hike up the mountain.
Then it opens up into some rolling wide trails, with beautiful views, and I start to find my rhythm. Then we head down in to the bush and the trail narrows to single track – my favourite! It’s not too long before we get to the bottom of what will be a very long climb, and I’m reconsidering my love of this leg. We climb up through a tree canopy, then rocky sections, until we finally reach the ridge at the top.
Now for the fun part, here’s an opportunity to pick up speed and run some flats and downs. There are many technical sections that involve quick thinking and footwork. We come back down the mountain and into transition, fill water and electrolytes, and head back up for leg 2.
This starts off arduously with steep, sandy switchbacks up. The photographer is always hiding somewhere in this section… Once at the top, we are again rewarded with some views and technical downhills. I’ll be honest, leg 2 isn’t my favourite section. It seems to be never ending ups, not as many views, and of course the home of “the bear”. When I was running alone last year, I had a bear literally right beside me in the bushes. So this section was pretty nerve wracking for me this go round. Luckily, my furry friend was no where to be found.
After some more single track through the trees, we come down the wide path back to the bottom of the mountain. At 35km in, this is the crucial checkpoint, if a runner is going to tap out, this might be where they do it. But, you all know how stubborn I am, I don’t even allow myself to think about stopping here, I just restock my pack and head back up the mountain for the final leg.
Leg 3 starts with a climb (shocker, I know), but I find it a little less strenuous than leg 2, and definitely more enjoyable. This leg is less technical than the first two, and there’s opportunity to pick up speed down the switchbacks, across the flats and down into the cool, treed valley. This is one of my favourite sections. Once we make it out to the wider path, I know I’m almost at the last aid station. Bittersweet. I know I only have 10km to go, but I know I have to climb an ugly hill, with no tree cover, I’d been dreading this the whole race. But then, something unexpected happened, the hill wasn’t so bad. There was none of the awfulness my brain remembered. This left me feeling great! Making my way across the top, and then back down into the trees for the never ending final 7km. This is the longest stretch for me, just when you think there can’t possibly be another up, there is. Serious mental toughness here. I realize I’m getting close to the finish and sprint the last 2 km out of the trees, down the path, down to the base of the ski hill and across the finish line. My body hurts, I’m emotional, tired and so fucking proud! I earned that damn medal!
You’re probably wondering, what the hell made you decide to run 54km? At once? There is an option to run this race as a team, or solo. There are 3 legs, you can choose to run them all as a 54km soloist, run them all twice as a 108km soloist, or run the 3×2 legs as a team of up to 6 runners. When this race started 3 years ago I ran it on a team, of course in true Deanne fashion I ran 2 of the legs instead of one. I ran legs 1 and 3 and felt amazing. Almost immediately thereafter I decided to do all 3 the following year as a soloist.
Running as a soloist is so different from being on a team. It’s all me. I have only myself to rely on, and only myself to prove anything to. On a team, we are all working together to finish in the best time possible. There may be a faster team member that makes up some time for us, or a slower runner that takes a little longer. As a soloist I am 100% in control of my speed.
Usually soloing = longer distance. It’s important you have a plan. What are your time goals? How will you fuel? Do you have a crew, or are you self supported? Make sure you have a race kit at transition with supplies to fix up your feet, bug spray, sunscreen and any food, electrolytes or other fuel that may not be provided by the race organizers. This was my first ultra that I fueled fully from fats and protein, no carbohydrates. It worked beautifully, but I had to make sure I had all of my own fuel for those specific needs. If you’re wondering, I ate hemp hearts, probar nut butters, water, sugar free electrolytes, and some pickles from the aid stations.
Running these long distances in the mountains, and soloing ultramarathons has taught me so much about myself. There are times when it gets hard, and ugly, and I’m so ready to be done. These are the times I’ve dug deep, and pushed myself on. I’ve taught myself that I can do anything, I’m brave, I’m strong. Pain is only temporary, misery will fade. If I want the glory, and exhilaration of the finish, I might have to trudge through some darkness to get there. I might shed some tears, yell, and curse. But I’ll get there. There’s nothing like hours alone on the trails to really get to know yourself.
You may still be thinking I’m crazy. Or, maybe you’re considering your own solo attempt at an ultra? How do you know how far is too far? If you’re ready? There’s only one way to find out! Before you sign up, consider the distance you’re running now. Are you comfortable? Looking for a challenge? Is it anywhere near the solo distance you’re considering? Look at the course. Is there an event you have your eye on? Have you already run it as part of a team? If so maybe start by running multiple legs. If not, maybe try running on a team first. Or just go for it!! Promise you’ll tell me all about it!!
If you’d like to connect more you can give me a call or text at 780-915-1634 or shoot me an email at Deanne@AdventuresWithDeanne.com I’d love to hear from you.