When: Jan 20, 2018                     Where: Edmonton, AB

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I consider myself a half marathoner at heart. I dabble in other distances. I have done 5K and 10K distances to push and see just how fast I can go, but the half marathon is my jam. I did one full marathon last year, to prove to myself that I could do it, and I will do more in the future, but the training for a full is difficult while working full time with an hour commute each way to work each day, with a spouse that works shift work, and having 2 young children. That said, when I completed my marathon in Nov 2017, I knew within 2 days that I was going to sign up for the 50K Ultra at the River Valley Revenge this year. I pushed myself in that marathon to hold my pace and I did not break. I will not be satisfied until I find my limit. And then I will not be satisfied until I beat that. I set goals that challenge me but am smart enough to know that they need to be incremental. I am not going to sign up for a 100 mile race tomorrow because I know that I am not ready for that challenge. But, one day I might be.

Last year I ran the 25K at the River Valley Revenge and fell in love with trail running. It was the first time that I ever ran without music. It was also the first time that I talked to other runners on course, talked to volunteers at the aid stations, and sat down after the race with a large group of people to share our adventures from the day. I knew that I would be back, but I did not know then that I would do the 50K.

This event is not managed like a big city race, but happens to be in a big city. The event managers honestly make every runner feel like they are a part of their family. They encourage each runner, before the race with many free practice runs on the course with aid and encouragement, online with an active Facebook group sharing tips and course information, and on race day, when they are busy making sure that everyone is geared well and has route maps, they still take the time to smile and stop to ask how you are feeling. I do not know of any other race organizers who put this much love and commitment into a race. If you do, let me know and I will be there! Ok, now let’s get to race day.

This was the second year of the winter edition and it sure grew from last year. This year, to encourage more runners of all abilities, they introduced more distance options. There was a 5K to introduce runners to trail running, they offered the 25K and 50K as relay options for teams, and then of course the 25K and 50K distances. The race start times are staggered so that runners can finish together instead of starting together. It is so great that back of the pack runners get the largest crowd to celebrate their finish. Most races are packing up and settling down when the last few are coming in, here the post race dinner and festivities are just getting started. This year they even gave hand knit toques to the runners.

Ok, race day! The 50K was planned to start at 8:00am. I got there at 7:20am and lined up to get my timing anklet. I wore my camel pack, had my nutrition for the first loop in my pockets, had my second half nutrition in my pack, chains on my shoes (traction is a definite must on this course), and I was ready to go. I did not get much sleep the night before, part nervous, part excited. The sun was just starting to rise. They handed out route maps to everyone that wanted one, gave some last minute words, and then the countdown was on. Here we go!

We left from the Laurier Heights Community Hall and started out across the field between two rows of lit candles. The sun was just starting to rise. We followed the residential streets until we got to the bike path down to the Quesnell bridge. Then we went off path, down the hill and under the bridge. We went under the Whitemud and up the hill on the south side and into the woods on Keith’s path. The path is hardly a path and more just a trek through the woods. The path is thin and rough. Someone in front of me slid off the path and scratched up his leg pretty good. Someone else helped him back up onto the path and I heard a cry of “Help me Tom Cruise” coming from the woods behind me. When we got to the top of the path, we climbed over a railing and then headed south through a neighbourhood along streets.

We re-entered the river valley and headed south on Two Truck Trail. This is a fun bit of single track with a lot of elevation changes. We continued along the North Saskatchewan River until we reached the foot of a large staircase. Thankfully, we were not doing the stairs. They were part of the course last year. The path opened up here and we were able to run. We went over the Fort Edmonton Park footbridge and into the woods behind the John Janzen Nature Centre. This area was new to me. The single track was nicely snow packed and was easy to run on. There were a lot of double backs on the path and seeing people in front of me running toward me confused me at first. Once I got there I discovered that the path zigzagged back and forth and up and down.

When my watch hit one hour, I decided to text my wife and let her know. This became a regular thing. I decided to text her every hour and let her know where I was at. This gave me something to look forward to and make me feel less alone on my journey.

I came out of the woods right at the parking lot for Fort Edmonton Park and then headed along the path towards the Savage Centre. The course then headed south on the wider walking path. This was the fastest part of the course and we gained a lot of ground on route to Snow Valley. I took turns passing a few other runners here and then they passed me. We took a sharp left out of the woods when we reached Snow Valley and went around the parking lot and hit the first aid station; complete with bag pipes. I stopped briefly for a quick cup of ginger ale and then headed south.

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From here there was a mix of wide path and single track. Lots of ups and downs and some really icy hills. I took a good tumble in here and actually somersaulted into some bush. I did a quick check, was not hurt, and kept going. Somewhere in here I almost got lost as we ran down a paved hill and I did not see the course markers heading to the right back into the bush. Then I saw someone coming toward me so I slowed and asked where they were going. They had also gone off track here and were doing some back tracking. We found to right way together. The course continued south, as long as we were still going south I knew that we were headed the right way. I started hearing runners ahead of me howling in the woods, which was echoed by runners on the other side of the creek who had already hit the south point. After more single track and plenty of elevation changing, we came to a point where I could see people heading up fireball ridge on the other side. I knew that I was getting close. In no time, I reached the 23rd Ave bridge and saw aid station number 2. Did it, reached the south point.

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After checking in and a quick bite, it was time to head north again. Through the brush and into a wall of a hill covered in ice. Even with ice grips, I still had to crawl on all fours to get up this hill. I came out of the trees and saw Fireball Ridge. I just started out and heard behind me, “Stop, hero shot!”. I turned and tried to pose for a picture. It is funny that this moment was captured from both sides. (see below) All of Sergios pictures from the race can be seen here.

At the top of the ridge was a bowl of jelly beans and some other liquid encouragement. I grabbed a few beans and kept going. I was moving pretty good from here. There was a lot of flat ground and I was feeling good about my pace. The third aid station was near the first one, on the other side of the road near the entrance to Snow Valley.

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From here we headed through the woods toward the Savage Centre. I was most familiar with this part of the course. I was going strong here. Lots of super fun single track with natural obstacles. When I reached the big hill that started the race last year, I took a good spill again and slid down for a bit. A quick jaunt around the building and under the road and I was headed up the hill toward the Balls.

Got some words of encouragement from the awesome volunteer after crossing the Quesnell Bridge and then headed up the switch back and back to the start at the Laurier Heights Community League. I ran into the building and pulled off my shoes. I went straight to the bathroom to force myself to pee, refilled my camel pack, had a cup of Coke or 2, and then headed back out. I went to my car and changed my buff, which was drenched with sweat. I was feeling better now. Relatively dry, ready to do it all over again. I was at the half way longer than planned, but still doing okay to finish before time. I saw a few runners just coming in as I was leaving and we shared encouraging words.

My texts with my wife to this point looked like this:

First Half Texts

I was using the talk to text so there are a few spelling errors.

I was completely alone on Keith’s trail and Two Truck trail and then spotted a few folks behind me a good ways when I got to the pedestrian bridge. My quads were cramping and by the time I got to the Jan Janzen section I was starting to stiffen up. I reached a fence with a section removed that we were running through and I stopped to stretch out my legs. I could feel the muscles pulling as I stretched them out. That felt good and I was on my way again.

The hours were slipping by and my watch battery died at 7 hours. I was heading south and around every turn I kept looking for Fireball Ridge on my left but it was never there. Finally, I saw it and pushed for the south aid station. I checked in just before the 8 hour mark.

I saw some people less than 10 minutes ahead of me and passed a girl who was struggling on the hill before the ridge but I had no time to help. I told her to try the right side and I headed up the ridge. At the top of the ridge, Keith the unicorn told me to stop effing around and I could still make it. This was all the encouragement I needed and I started moving faster. In what seemed like no time at all, I was back to aid station 3 and Keith was already there. I was only a few minutes behind the group in front of me now and had passed a person or two. Again Keith told, don’t eff again and you will make it. I felt motivated and even started running the uphills again on the final chunk of single track. As I was crossing the Quesnell Bridge I saw another runner emerging behind me. I took it easy up the final hills and the guy behind was getting closer. As we reached the final few streets, I walked while he caught up and I told him that we could finish together. He told me that he was doing the 25K but had started late. We crossed the finish.

Second half texts:

Second Half Texts

At the finish I was told that they were all out of medals and would have to send me one. But, while I was changing Sheryl came over and gave me one. They were handmade ceramic medals. I got out of my wet gear, changed my shoes, and sat to share stories with other runners before supper. A guest speaker gave a great talk about why running is great. It isn’t about coming in first; it is about the journey, and the people we meet along the way. There was tons of food, potluck style and I got all filled up, waited for all the door prize giveaways, said goodbye to some new friends made, and drove home.

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58 people started the 50K race, only 34 finished before the 10 hour cutoff. I have never been in an event with such a low success rate. And I was very proud of myself. To the 24 individuals who didn’t finish in time, you still beat everyone who did not have the courage to start and you should all be proud. Thank you so much to all the volunteers and my wonderful wife who encourages me everyday to go after my dreams.

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Thanks again to the photographers for the free pictures:

I just signed up for the 50K River Valley Revenge this June. Can’t wait to do this all over again, with less ice!

Event website: https://www.canadianrivervalleyrevenge.com/winter-revenge.html

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