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Prepping for Kalaharai Augrabies Endurance Marathon – our first self-supported staged ultramarathon

LIMG_1258In October, Dave and I raced the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. The race is named for where it takes place: in Augrabies Falls National Park, in the Kalahari Desert, eastern South Africa along the border with Namibia. We’ve both raced multi-day staged ultramarathons before, but this would be our first self-supported race.

LIMG_1259Self-supported means you must carry your own gear – in other words, carry a fairly heavy pack. In addition to the week’s worth of food, we also had to carry all of our clothing for the week (some racers opted for almost no clothing other than what they raced in – yuck!), sleeping bags and mats, and dishes. Race organizers provided hot water (so freeze-dried instant meals were the go) as well as canvas shelters for us to sleep under. Anything else was up to us.


Monkeys showing their stuff. Yup,umm, those are what you think they are…


Cute little monkey family. (I think they are laughing at those boys).


This is the restaurant at Augrabies – frequented by colourful birds and these little dassies.


We were expecting heat – but by the week before the race, the forecast was looking scary! Day-time temperatures for race week forecast to hover around 40°C, or 105°F (and it ended up getting WAY hotter than that). We had been warned about very cold night-time temperatures here, so my husband Dave and I both brought our down jackets. Ha ha,that ended up being a joke.


Compulsory gear check – if we didn’t have all of the required gear, including at least 2000 calories of food per day, we were not allowed to race.

This year’s event had 71 racers entered, 34 of them from South Africa, and the remainder (just over half the field) coming from around the globe: elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, a great number from Europe, three from Canada (including Dave and me) and one each from Australia and the USA.

Figuring out nutritional needs – packing enough, but not too much, not to mention the right balance of foods – was a challenge. I was carrying enough for close to 3000 calories per day, which ended up being more than I needed. However, I would rather err on that side, than go hungry at the end of a tough week in the Kalahari Desert!


Testing out our sand gaiters – some by and some by Rough Country. They velcro on to the bottoms of the shoes, to keep all sand out (major blister prevention strategy).

Some runners had their packs down to around 7 kg dry weight. Dave’sand mine both came down to 12 kg. We were okay with those weights starting out – not wanting to be missing stuff and suffering out there – but by the end of the race we both had learned so much that we would be able to go way lighter next time. Aid stations were 8-10 km apart, and we were provisioned with 1.5 l of water at each, so we would be carrying up to 1.5 kg of water on top of that dry weight.

Dave and I trained with our weighted packs for only a few weeks before the race. I think I would have been better training with the heavy pack a bit longer than that, as it does put a different type of strain on your joints and your feet – but overall, I was feeling pretty good pre-race.

Planned daily distances were: 25k, 30k, 40k, 80k (overnight stage), 47k, and 21k.


There were monkeys in our camp/race headquarters at Kalahari Augrabies National Park, and nice short walks to view the waterfalls and gorge. Dave and I went out on a two-hour game drive the afternoon before the race (I feel I should be resting – but I cannot resist seeing more of Africa and its wildlife, not to mention get an idea of the terrain we would be passing through). On the drive, we saw eland, springbok and a giraffe!


Heading out on our pre-race game drive.


A chance to get a look at the country we would be running through. Not a lot of shade.


Herd of eland.


A springbok.


Our first giraffe!


Another lovely view of the gorge.


The Golden Ultra Day 2: A 55 km mountain ultramarathon with 2700 m cumulative gain/loss


Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

I woke up Saturday morning feeling amazing! I had got plenty of sleep – which is rare on multi-day races – and my legs felt great in spite of the previous day’s big uphill. My summer spent climbing mountains around my Vancouver Island home was really paying off. Today I would find out if my downhill training was also sufficient, as the 55 km route was basically one big mountain climb: starting in the town of Golden at 785 m, hitting the summit at 2365 m at our 31k mark, then descending over 1500 m back to town.

A few days previous, the forecast was for rain, but luckily that had mellowed to a total expected precipitation of only 3 mm for the day, with expected temperatures at town-level of around 8C. Of course things can change quickly in the mountains – but that had me make a last-minute decision to not carry my rain jacket after all, and just take a light nylon shell instead. Jacket, hat and gloves were all required gear: all things that I think any of us would have carried on this route anyway, required or not.

That's me, with two other local racers, starting out and still in forest. Photo: Bruno Long/GoldenUltra

That’s me, with two other local racers, starting out and still in forest. Photo: Bruno Long/GoldenUltra

Three of the three-day racers who had run the previous day chose to DNS, so the field was now down to 48 attempting the full distance. It was just getting light in Spirit Square, downtown Golden, as we headed out: first for 3 or so km down the road alongside the river, then veering left to start the climb through the forest.

There were a fair few locals in the field, but the rest of us had no idea of what to expect from the route. What a surprise to find that we were rising along the lip of a spectacular canyon! Its irregular lip was on our immediate left – a completely jagged and eroding edge, and from there a 500 m (1500’) dropto the rushing river below. Don’t stumble! Signs warned that this was sensitive mountain goat habitat – I sure wished I had time to hang out here with my binoculars. But the race clock was ticking… I snapped some pix and kept going.

Climbing along the lip of the canyon.

Climbing along the lip of the canyon.

Very quick stop to appreciate the view...

Very quick stop to appreciate the view…

And this is the view! It's a long way down...

And this is the view! It’s a long way down…

The 22 km aid station - not too cold yet.

The 22 km aid station – not too cold yet.

I climbed for a while with a nurse named Jen from Golden- nice to have someone to chat to as we plodded upward. I was faster uphill than her, which gave me the opportunity to get a bit ahead of her and then stop to take pictures (nice when I can actually have people in my photos!) It got colder and windier as we ascended, now along a forested ridgeline, and I soon stopped to rug up, very glad that I had chosen a thick fleece toque for my required-gear hat.

Climbing with Jen.

Climbing with Jen.

The terrain got rougher and rockier, and by around 1pm Jen and I were in the clouds. You’ve all been there, you know the routine when climbing a new mountain: :this one has got to be the real summit.” Around the third false summit, nearly 2pm, Jen said “We’re gonna be tight to make the aid station cut-off.”

What?? I hadn’t even looked at the cut-off times because I had just assumed I wouldn’t be chasing them! “Yes,” she said, “It’s a 6:30 hour cut-off to Aid Station #2”- which was around the 33 km mark. We were 6:20 into the race, and we could actually see some figures silhouetted in the fog at the next summit (which, hopefully, was the real one). I pushed hard – do NOT want to be DQ’d up here! – trying to balance the need for not generating too much lactic acid in my quads as I ascended with the need not to miss the cut-off.

Another false summit. No way to know how much further...

Another false summit. No way to know how much further…

And here I am - finally on the real summit! Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

And here I am – finally on the real summit! Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

And we made it! And there was a race volunteer up there with both bad news – the aid station is another 2 km ahead – and good news – it’s an 8-hour cut-off. We still had an hour and a half! (“Oops, sorry!” laughed Jen!). This was at least the actual summit. From here, we followed a very narrow, rocky (and somewhat scary) ridgeline. Jen was much faster than me on that type of terrain. I caught her momentarily when I made the aid station, but then didn’t see her again for the rest of the day.

Here's the view looking back from the 33k aid station - the summit I was on and the ridgeline coming down. LOTS of descending still to go.

Here’s the view looking back from the 33k aid station – the summit I was on and the ridgeline coming down. LOTS of descending still to go.

Running down (I walked a lot of this stuff, rocks were slippery and wet and it would be a long way to fall!) Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

Running down (I walked a lot of this stuff, rocks were slippery and wet and it would be a long way to fall!) Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

I was very cold when I hit the aid station – which was the top of the same gondola we had finished at yesterday. My core temperature was actually totally fine, but my hands were cold to the point of barely being able to use them. I needed to eat, but I knew that I could not stand still or I would chill instantly.

Fortunately, there was a little room there, toasty warm, where we could sit to eat! There were two racers already in there recovering from mild hypothermia, and the safety director looked at me, worried, when I entered, asking me all the proper questions to assure that I was OK and not in need of aid. One of the racers was still very cold, unsure if she would continue or not, and the safety director was monitoring her, taking her pulse. The other racer gradually warmed up, and he headed out as I ate.

Love this pic, of a runner on that exposed ridgeline. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

Love this pic, of a runner on that exposed ridgeline. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

I spent maybe ten minutes in there, eating as many chips and pretzels and drinking as much water as I could stuff in. The icy wind shocked me when I stepped back out – had I really been running in such cold? But I knew that I would be losing altitude very quickly from here, so I started to run. Down rocks, then eventually down a switchbacking gravel path below the gondola, down down down to the resort we had started at yesterday, then through the parking lot (waved on by race volunteers cheering us on and directing us) and into the forest and down and more down.

Later that night, at dinner, everyone I talked to agreed that this section – between the aid station at 33 km up top, and the next aid station at 44 km, was much longer than 11 km! (I think several km longer). But the terrain was pretty fast – some mud at lower levels, nothing too bad.

And then abruptly I emerged at the same bridge where we had crossed over the Kicking Horse River that morning: just 3 road km and I would be done! I still had pretty good running legs (well, maybe “jogging” is the better word here). A local woman on a bike rode with me and encouraged me the last 500 m, pointing out the finish tent (I thought I was much further out) and motivating me to pick up the pace for the finish – and, to lots of cheering, I made it in.

Today's winner,Jorge Maravilla, up on the ridgeline. Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

Today’s winner,Jorge Maravilla, up on the ridgeline. Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

It was the multi-day racers who killed it today! In all four categories, multi-day racers took top place, finishing ahead of runners who were “only” doing today’s 55k. Notable were the two Open category (under-40) winners.

California’s Jorge Maravilla tore the course to shreds, finishing in an incredible 5:53:37. “It was hard,” he told me. “I’ve never done a race with so much vert.” And the women’s winner, Ailsa MacDonald of St. Albert, AB, put out an equally impressive performance, finishing in 6:18:33 to take second overall! Apparently Ailsa is new to trails, currently making the switch from running road marathons – so I think we will be hearing a lot more about her! Full Day 2 results can be found at

There’s nothing like that feeling when you cross the finish line after a tough race and the tears well up just a bit in your eyes. But no time to dwell on that – I was a good hour longer than I had expected, finishing in 11:25 (cut-off was 12 hours!). Time to get warm clothes on, enjoy dinner with my fellow runners at the adjacent Island restaurant, then get back up the hill to sleep before tomorrow’s final stage

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Heading to the Golden Ultra, mountains of British Columbia, in a few days: How I trained

Photo: Dave Best/Golden Ultra

Photo: Dave Best/Golden Ultra

I’m leaving in two days for the Golden Ultra. Multi-day staged races are definitely my favourite ultramarathon format, and this one intrigued me as soon as I heard about it. Most multi-day ultrarunning events are kind of the same from day to day – usually between 20 and 50 km of hilly running per day for five or six days (and sometimes with a 70 or 80 km overnight stage thrown in). But the three-day Golden Ultra (aka Blood, Sweat and Tears) is different:

Day 1 (the Blood) – 5 km, but with 1000 m vertical gain

Day 2 (the Sweat) – classic 55 km mountain ultramarathon (2500 m vertical gain and loss along the way)

Day 3 (the Tears) – a 20 km trail run on rolling, relatively flat, trails (total 400 m vertical gain and drop)

So this is more like three completely different races, each one suited to different types of runners: hill-climbers OR ultrarunners OR half-marathoners. Few people are all three! (And there is the option of entering for just one of the days… but of course it is the full three-day event that captivates me).

So, for me, my main goals are:

  1. Don’t blow my legs out on the first big-uphill day, because there is still a long way to go.
  2. Don’t let my feet swell after the 55 km ultramarathon day – or I won’t be able to run the final day.
  3. Try to train well at running so I won’t be embarassingly slow on that third, supposedly very runnable day.
  4. Don’t get injured – because I am racing the 7 day Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, only 4 weeks later!

So, now, how have I gone with my training to achieve those goals?

The big uphill: 300 vertical metres of this. And we did it twice!

Hiking the Inlet Trail with Nikki last year. I’m on this trail nearly every week.

1. Well, I’ve done a real lot of hill-climbing (as well as a little bit of leg weights) so I think I am in the best climbing shape I have ever been. In the last two or so months I’ve done Della Falls (still waiting for Dave to do that blog post), Mt. Arrowsmith, Mt. Adder, Mt.Klitsa, Mt. Albert Edward in Strathcona, the Castle Crag/Mt.Frink/Albert Edward loop in Strathcona and – the highlight of the summer (blog post not uploaded yet, sorry!) – the Buttle Lake to Mt. Washington Augerpoint Traverse! These hikes all have elevation gains of 1000 m or more. And I have also trained on our usual “back yard” uphill hikes a lot too, like the CPR trail, and up the start of the Alberni Inlet Trail (same hike I did with Nikki Scott last year, when we were prepping for the Squamish 50k. Coincidentally, Nikki is one of the organizers of the Golden Ultra!).

2. I’ve trained as well as I can so my feet won’t be “shocked” by the effort and swell. I’ve done a lot of really long days – in particular, those three big Strathcona days three consecutive Tuesdays: 8.5 hrs then 9.5 hrs then 13.5 hrs. I’ve also done a lot of back-to-back days – either two big hikes in a row, or a big hike followed by a hilly run. So my body is pretty accustomed to that kind of thing: the amount of hours and the fatigued muscles. And I will have electrolyte pills along (and use them) for the race. And I’ve just ordered new Injinji compression socks for running and recovery too. Those are the things you can do to try to minimize foot swelling. Beyond that, there still is a little bit of a luck-of-the-draw component there. But I think I am set up pretty well.

You get up on a beautiful plateau with lots of little tarns. You can see theMt.Albert Edward ridgeline behind me here - I'll be going up it around the right side of the photo, thentraversing it to the left. You can't see the peak of the mountain yet from here - it's behind the ridge.

Heading up Mt. Albert Edward in July. I did lots of big mountain hikes and runs this year.

3. Well… I am still not a fast runner. I was really good with my long hikes training… but probably could have done a bit more with the long fast runs. I did get going on some HIIT (high intensity interval training) which supposedly helps with speed… also have been taking iron supplements these last two months. Low iron is a very common issue with female runners, and I definitely have problems with that.

4. And then I will just have to go safe and smart. I am probably in the best shape I have ever been in my life (at age 51!!) – maybe not my fastest ever, but definitely my strongest, and recovering really well and quickly after big days. So I am in good shape in that department. I’lljust have to be careful, and make sure I don’t get hurt.

So there you go. I leave here Thursday, flying into Calgary and then driving out to Golden. The race starts with that first short but steep leg on Friday afternoon, so I will have some time up my sleeve to relax and get a good sleep there the night before. I’ll be staying at the official host hotel, Kicking Horse Lodging’s Glacier Mountaineer Lodge (which has a hot tub and sauna!) – so many thanks to the race organizers and the host hotels for arranging this! What a treat, to have such luxurious accommodation while running such a wild and rugged multi-day ultramarathon. Wish me luck!


Sun Mountain 80 km ultramarathon, Winthrop, Washington! Our first 50 miler!

Owner Carl at Javaman Burritos

Owner Carl at Javaman Burritos

Jackie and I have gone to Winthrop, WA, to run ultramarathons for four years in a row. A stop for burritos at Java Man Espresso and Burrito Bar is now a ritual. Read the rest of this entry »

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A race that is sure to become ultramarathon legend: my Ultrafiord 70 km run, Chilean Patagonia

11182061_555765111232685_3227778224974255049_nAbout time… here, finally, is my post on the Ultrafiord race I ran last month in Patagonia: at 70 km, my longest ultramarathon to date. I’ve already posted an Ultrafiord race report on – but here is a more personal account of what happened.

Well, I have known the Race Director, Stjepan Pavicic, for around 15 years, and I know his style: his motivation is to create races that are big and wild and very very hard. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scared: About to “run” (ahem) 70k in wildest Patagonia (Chile)

Wow, this’ll just be a quick note, because I am heading out to the race start very soon: for the inaugural Ultrafiord ultramarathon, here in southern Patagonia, Chile. There are 100 mile, 100k and 70k races going on. I’m running the shortest one… but it’s not that short!! Our time cut-off is 32 hours!!

Photo on 15-04-16 at 4.15 AMI’m in the town of Puerto Natales right now. Here’s a pic from the computer this morning, here at the lovely Hotel Weskar (on the water) at first light, 8:15 am. Our race starts at 8:30 tomorrow morning. So I’ll have 11 or so hours of light, then it’ll be by headlamp after that.

I had originally thought I would do it in 12 hours or so, maybe a bit more. (I did the Angel’s Staircase 60k a year and a half ago in 11:40, and I was injured then). But now that I have seen the route info, I am thinking I could be 16 hours or more. Read the rest of this entry »


Made it through the Comox Valley Half-Marathon last weekend!

LIMG_7888Well, some day I will actually run a decent half-marathon. My best marathon time is 3:56, so you’d think I’d be able to run a half in 1:55 or less. But something always seems to go wrong for me – injury or illness. Well, this time, running the Comox Valley Half-Marathon, the problem was respiratory stuff: a cold I came down with over five weeks ago, which turned into bronchitis.

So of course that affected my training – although I did manage to continue training at some level through it all (experimenting with HIIT, high-intensity interval training, which meant very short but high-intensity workouts on the exercise bike rather than doing much running). I also could do weights.

So basically I entered the race with my legs feeling great and strong, but my cardio fairly poor, and my lungs still not healed. I went there with my friend Gail – we got a hotel and had a nice Thai dinner the night before, and were very appreciative of the generous 11am race start time. So at least we were having fun!

Gail was hoping to run under 2 hours, and I honestly didn’t have any idea of what time I would take. I told Gail I could be anywhere between 2 hours and 2:15 – possibly even more. The whole route is an out-and-back: a gentle uphill out and downhill back. I figured I would go as fast as I could conservatively sustain going out – and if I was still up to running, I would aim for a negative split coming back.

Highlights on the way out were seeing a bunch of crazy people on the side of the road, wearing weird wigs and blowing kazoos – and realizing that they were Ryan and Andrea! (They used to live here in Port Alberni). And also the huge dead tree on the side of the road with an eagles’ nest and the two eagles watching over us.

I made it to the turnaround in 1:01.45. I realized it would be tight to make 2 hours, but it wasn’t impossible – I’d have to make up 3 and a half minutes on the way back – so I went for it.

I calculated my time at every kilometre marker, and was running around a 5:30 kilometre. But I needed to do around 5:20 to make my 2 hours. Would I have enough left in me to sprint in the final 2 km?

By the 19k mark, I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I let off the pace, and finished in around 2:01:20 (my official race time was 2:01:39 – they’re not showing the chip times for some reason, though). Oh well, it still is a half-marathon Personal Best for me (as pathetic as that is! leaving me lots of room for improvement). And I did achieve a pretty good negative split – under an hour on the return. (Gail achieved her goal too, finishing in 1:58!).

Honestly, I am pretty happy with running that time considering the health problems I have had. Some day I will run faster… Big thanks to Ryan and Andrea for hanging out on the course for my return, so Ryan could get this great photo of me (smiling even)!

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