img_7946When: Jan 21, 2017                   Where: Edmonton, AB, Canada

This was the inaugural Winter Edition of the River Valley Revenge and my first trail running Ultra event. They offered 8K, 25K, and 50K distances, but if you know how trail running race coordinators are, those distances are really underestimated.

I signed up for the 25K distance and when I arrived, the 50Kers were already on the course for 3 hours and several were just hitting the halfway check in. The 50K participants were doing 2 loops of the course that I was about to run. It was a very foggy morning but the weather was cooperating and it was not too cold. The race started at the Alfred H. Savage centre and they had announcers and photographers getting everyone prepared with course directions and before pictures. I love getting free race pictures at events so I need to thank Jill (http://www.jsakowsky.smugmug.com/) for capturing my before and after pictures.

The course started with the North Loop and a climb up a steep hill (pictured above). At the top of the hill the course quickly entered into single track with a lot of elevation changes on rough terrain with plenty of roots, trees, rocks, and ice. This spread out the runners and then we reached the first big challenge, a steep downhill with people sitting at varies point along the way down. Spikes were stressed as a must have for this course and this was the first reason way. I wore Salomon trail shoes and they worked pretty well, but I still needed to get low and slide down part of the slope. I also took my first fall here, like many others. I didn’t land hard but it was not a graceful decent. The course did open up some after this and we did some running along the river banks and through the woods all on mostly packed snow. There were some trees to climb over but the course was well marked with pink sand at the turns and orange slices on the branches.

Several hills later, I reached the first check in point and aid station. Volunteers made sure that I was still feeling well and refilled my water bottle. They had pop, chips, and pretzels at the aid station and a large fire going for people who wanted to warm up. Being a regular road half marathoner, I was not sure if my legs would carry past the 2 hour mark. I had never tested myself like this before. On the way back to the starting area we went up the steep hill that I had slid down earlier. It was a tough climb. Back at the Savage centre I got my bottle refilled again and was asked questions to make sure that I was doing ok. I was warm and I still had legs. I was now 3 hours in and according to my Garmin, I was done 20K. So, I was thinking that there would be a nice easy 5K to finish it off. I was wrong.

The 8K runners were just starting and we were going to be running the same loop, so I knew that I would be going over the 25K mark by the time it was all done. The most challenging part of the course was still to come. The Two Truck Trail is a steep technical scramble along the North Saskatchewan River bank. I did well to run past many of the runners who were just starting their race because I did not want to get stuck in a crowd. I even surprised myself that at this point I was still putting down a decent pace. I crawled on hands and knees up several of the hills and then reached a tall staircase with the next check in station at the top. This aid station had pop and lots of sugar goodies and I got my water bottle topped up before descending the staircase. From here, it was mostly smooth sailing into the finish. I had done it. It took me 4 and a half hours, nearly 28K, more than 1100ft of elevation gain, but I did it.

I was greeted by smiles and cheering and a big hug as I got my medal. The medals were wooden and handmade; my first wooden medal! After stretching, I went into the Savage centre where they had chili, buns, pop, beer, pie, cookies, and plenty of other goodies waiting. Everyone was in such high spirits. 4 and a half hours earlier these people were strangers, now I felt like they were family. All congratulating one another, we had tested ourselves and came out stronger for it. I will not forget this experience for a long time. I originally thought that this would be a one time thing that I would try, I had no idea that I would fall in love with it. I need to sign up now for the summer event before it sells out. The Edmonton Trail Runners are a remarkable group and hosted an amazing event. The event of the year? I know the year just started, but this is going to be tough to beat.

 

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