June 4th, 2016 I towed the line with my best friends to run 17,000 feet/5181 meters in our own backyard mountains of North Vancouver for the VAN100.
The VAN100 is a different kind of race in the sense that its not marked, there are no aid stations or crews provided along the way, theres no website, theres no official clock or official start time, there isn’t even a registration fee. What there is… is mountains and trails and these little orange triangular markings on trees saying BP, standing for Baden Powell, the name of the trail you are hoping to stay on route of. You sign up, you make a plan, find amazing friends who are willing to be your crew/aid stations and time your race. This is one really, really tough 100k. Most of who sign up for this race are locals here to Vancouver and know the trails well… very well. We train on the BP trails weekend after weekend. Most who sign up know the way, the whole way. But add in some through the night running with some low laying cloud and I can barley see my own feet visibility and staying on trail, the right trail, can become make or break to your finish. Your only rule, besides staying on course, is that you must finish before the finishers dinner on June 5th at 4:00pm.
After much deliberation we had concluded on starting our race on Saturday June 4th at 5:00am with hoping for a roughly 24hour finish time. Though the finish time was never the main goal other then finishing of course. Trail race times tend to go out the window. I was so excited to see what my body was going to do past the 20hour mark, which is the longest running time I have had before this, when October 2015 we ran the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim pushing 90+km’s self supported. Now was my chance to do once again something of the unknown for my mind and body.
Doubt is a word… a thing that I do not have or know. I can’t remember ever really having doubt in my running career. It was no different for this race, there was no doubt in my mind that I would complete what I set out to do. Here is the story of how we ran the VAN100.
Saturday June 4th 3:23am my alarm goes off. Im dressed, I’m eating a whole wheat wrap with peanut butter/coconut spread and ready to run. Kyle and Chris pick me up at 3:55am. We head toward the North Van Mountains. We get a flat tire. Perfect. Good thing its not an official start time we will be late for. Dayna and Brie had driven themselves to Clevland Dam (the bottom of Grouse Mountain) to met us for a car drop where we would leave our bags of food and gear for both the 25km mark and 75km mark. Since we had a flat tire… Dayna and Brie to the rescue, came and picked us up and we continued on with our adventure. Bags dropped. Start line arrived. It was pouring… like REALLY POURING RAIN!! for our start.
But we started anyways of course! Brie and Dayna started with us to run the first 25kms! 5:46am official start time. The first 50km of the course, as you can see on the elevation profile above, is an overall uphill climb. Theres a few downhills in between but its mostly a climb. The first 25km of the BP we run almost every other weekend. We hit parts of the BP every weekend I would say, so it is very familiar to us and we ran it as we normally do. Pacing for 100k not pushing hard and keeping our legs moving to stay warm and to get warmed up. First lookout of the day for a photo op!
We were on pace for a 5 hour to the 25km mark, first crew stop. The amazing thing about this race, like any trail race of course, is the community. We new that many other racers had already started their races and we would be seeing them at some point out on the course. Our first encounter was Dikesh! aka. Brown dude in the forest! He had started Friday morning around 9:30am and was on hour 22 when we saw him smiling and making his way on the trail! As we asked him how he was doing, the thought that I had another 22 or more hours ahead of me crossed my mind for a split second… but only a split second. And on we went.
Deep Cove, Seymour, Lynn Headwaters, Grouse Mountain, Cleveland Damn, Aid Station. My body felt good for the first 25k, didn’t feel amazing, didn’t feel not good. I did catch myself a few times giving myself a hard time for not being able to move faster then I was, contemplating… going over everything I have done in the past few weeks to taper and prepare. I had done everything without a flaw. Then I remembered to remind myself to listen to my body… theres a reason I wasn’t moving fast, not because I wasn’t prepped, but because my body new how much farther there was to go. No need to push it now. We got to the base of Grouse Mountain, theres a Starbucks in the Lodge and bathrooms! We had a quick stop for a bathroom break and an espresso shot before heading to the car. Chaffing had started early for me today because of the rain. I was soaked right through and well yes chaffing… usually I can get away with 5+ hours before chaffing starts but YAY not today! So the vaseline was moved into a more convenient location in my pack. At our first crew stop, I changed into dry socks and new dry shoes. Ate a Veggie Samosa, some chips, repacked nutrition into my pack, grabbed my headlamp and poles, drank orange juice and was ready to go after about 30 mins.
The rain had let up to a light mist… there was hope! And off we went for a section of the trail I had never been on in this direction. The rain had again let up to the point where I took off my rain coat and was down to a T-shirt. During this climb up to the top of Cypress Mountain we had to fight off, over grown prickle bushes, calf deep mud, steep rocky technical terrain and some you better pay attention trail markings. We starting running into more and more VAN100 racers as the day went on. Stopping to chat about the days events and each others journey. By the time we made it up Hollyburn, to scratchy post and through “the shitty trail” we were still going strong and in high spirits covered in layers of mud loving life! Next was another steep climb up past the Cypress Mountain Lodge to the top of Black Mountain where we got this view… the cloud had opened for a split second allowing us to see the ocean below. A friendly reminder that now we have to go straight down there.
This was one of my biggest fears for this course. Going down the face of Black Mountain via Eagle Bluffs. Its not exactly a runnable trail the whole way down and if you have the slightest fear of heights or vertigo, like myself, heading down this side of the mountain can be quit the task. But it was one that I was looking forward to conquering, as nervous as I was I wanted myself to do it. It started with some rock faces, that today are wet and slick. So onto my butt I go and crab-walk style making my way down, next is some very narrow, technical, steep trail sections, before hitting a large steep boulder field and then again some very steep, narrow trails. Luckily for me I had Kyle and Chris navigating me down the safest footpaths. We had planned on this decent taking extra time due to the wet slippery conditions and its steep scariness! Eventually the trail levels out and becomes an awesome runnable downhill straight to the 50km mark!
The amazing Brie and (my husband) Mike were at the 50k crew spot for us!! I can’t thank Brie enough for the vegan doughnuts and Mike for the hot coffee! We arrived at 50k at 6:55pm later then we had planned but o well right. We were all smiles and ready to eat and take a bit of a rest, reset, recharge. Once again for me it was a dry sock change and a dry shorts change. We ate, changed, re packed and headed back out to tackle steep climb we just came down. After resting until 8:00pm it took a few minutes to get the legs moving and stretched out again. Typically staying still at or sitting an aid station for this long isn’t something we recommend because its hard to get going again and your legs can get stiff etc. its called “be ware of the chair”. Time here flew by for us and before we knew it an hour had gone by. We hadn’t set out time frames for our aid stations we were just going by feel and took the break we needed. As we started out again my stomach decided to, not get upset (which was one of my race worries as its happened before from dehydration and lack of calories) but instead have some gas issues. My stomach was trying to digest something causing a sharp pain in my intestine. I knew it was gas I needed to get out but until it did it prevented me from picking up the pace on the runnable sections, though there wasn’t much to run as it quickly turned into a steep climb back up the gnarly trails and the boulder field to Eagle Bluffs.
We are 55+kms into the race and I haven’t hit a low yet…. I wasn’t thinking to much about it but I usually hit a low point around 35kms and again around 60km. We continued to climb when I was starting to feel a bit tired, a bit off on energy. I said “Kyle I’m feeling a bit off what should I do?” “Eat something.” he said. Right, silly me eat something. I had eaten lots at the 50km mark however hadn’t thought of it since then, most likely due to the digestion pains working through my guts. So a PB&J it was, we took a seat on the edge of a rock, Chris and I ate quickly, Kyle got cold and the massive misquotes ate us. On we went feeling much better and powered up. Kyle at this point started to get really really cold. He had pants on with a long sleeve, mid layer synthetic jacket and his rain coat over top. It was a bit odd as me and Chris are still in shorts and t-shirt with a light jacket on. He started saying that he wasn’t feeling quite right yet he wouldn’t stop to get food because he thought he was going to get hypothermia he was so cold. So continued to the top of Eagle Bluffs, the sun had gone down and it had some how taken us 3 hours to get to Cypress Lodge. This is our view from Eagle Bluffs the second time around.
The way down from Eagle Bluffs is a very technical section with some steep decents. As we worked through it with our head lamps, Kyle was getting worse, we managed to get him to stop for a minute take a seat and he took two bites of a PB&J sandwich then got COLD again and off he went. So off we followed. By the time we made our steep decent to Cypress Lodge Kyle wasn’t able to make full sentences and was starting to fall asleep standing. All he wanted to do was lay down and take a nap! This was not good. Finally my body was starting to show some pain, as my knees were aching on the down hills but I was more concerned at the time, as me and Chris are whispering to each other trying to make a plan as to how we will get Kyle to eat and wondering what or how we would make it the next 15km through the most technical terrain to Cleveland Damn. Worst case scenario when we got to Cypress Lodge we would stop and let him have a nap, wrap him up in emergency blankets and try to feed him. Next thing we know we thought we were going crazy… as we are rolling into the parking lot we hear this yelling in the distance “Chris!!??” Chris looks at me “hey I think its Dayna,” Im like no way its not Dayna its probably a parks person or someone who works here wondering what the hell we are doing out here at 12:20am. Im thinking here we go and the hallucinations start! Turns out it was Dayna and her husband Robin!! Surprising us with PIZZA! This couldn’t have turned out better because we needed to get Kyle some help. I explained to Dayna what was going on and she took over. At first he lay in the back seat of the warm car to have a “quick nap” but that didn’t work, he was so cold. So she got him in the front seat of the car, took off his top layers to discover how wet his clothes were. They lay against the blasting heat to dry out. Me and Chris ate our pizza then joined the warm car. We worked on getting Kyle to take electrolytes, shot blocks and pizza. Kyle was now even unsure as to where he was. He kept asking us where are we? He was unable to keep his sentences. The electrolytes and small amount of food worked for a minute or so, he had woken up, his clothes dried out enough for him to put them back on. I am not going to lie this is where I started to get what my friends call “ROSA DIAZ” mode. Another hour had gone by with us here in the car trying to help Kyle so we can all go back out there together. In this time though my legs started to shake and I started to feel cold…. I had to keep moving! Sadly, as Kyle was telling us he was ready to go back out there he feel back asleep mid sentence. For Kyles safety he had to pull the plug. We had to go on without him. We spent almost 1.5 hours at the car. Me and Chris sitting in Dayna’s car…
Once again it was a bit of a slow warm up heading into “the shitty section” (the most technical trail section which is mostly roots. makes for a slow go especially in the dark). But we made our way, we are now hitting the 20 hour mark. Something for me happened in “the shitty section” yes we were not moving to fast, due to the technical terrain, but we were MOVING! As we made it to scratchy post turning right to head through Hollyburn, every ache, pain and yawn of tiredness I had went away. It was like instantly I was in a new body. My chaffing didn’t hurt, my knees stopped aching, my headache went away and it was like I was as light as a feather. I said to Chris… lets run… and we ran. Through the mud, across the wooden boards, over the rocks and down the steep rocky sections, it was like I was running a foot off the ground, floating over every root and rock, moving so smoothly. As we made our way down the low fog/cloud rolled in making it really hard to see even my own feet. When this happens its almost worse to have your headlamp on as it just reflects back off the mist. We made a wrong turn… lucky able to recognize it wasn’t right early enough to turn around and get out a trail map (the trail signage through this section is hard to follow on a bright sunny day). We got back on track… still flying we found the right trail and flew. All at the same time I’m racing through my head, is it safer to be in the front or back? What if theres a cougar following us? I don’t want to run in the front because I don’t want to see the reflection of an animals eyes. I wished for the night to turn to day so badly. I’ve learned its not my favourite feeling, being in the middle of a mountain, so far from anything, in the middle of the night, in the silence. My imagination getting the better of me at times now, where I would stop and turn quickly to see if anything was behind me. Of course only to see nothing.
The second I heard the morning birds chirping, I remember this feeling of relief coming over me. Knowing that meant morning and that meant daylight. Still flying high without an ache, pain or thought of how much farther to go we made our way back through the prickle bush fiasco and down to Cleveland Dam. 75km we made it and BRIE was there waiting for us!
This was it! The last 25kms to go! No more crew, no more aid stations. Just us, trail and determination. Once again we ate, drank some coffee, packed more food. Chris changed socks and for some unknown reason I decided not to. I vaguely remember thinking to myself, its only 25 more k. Don’t worry about dry socks. After about 30 minutes we were on our way. To yet again climb and eventually make our way across Grouse Mountain where again we had to navigate another really technical hard to run section. My body was still feeling great at this point but my balance was a little off in my head and certain steps took an extra second to place and this is now the point where I started to get “loopy”. It was now 5:30am ish and people are out. Other, normal… “the public” I call it, is out. Grouse grinders etc. It was weird to see people. No one knew why we looked the way we did… or that we had just been running for the past 24 hours. As we got deeper into the trails I just kept thinking I was seeing people up ahead and pre planning for a spot to step aside the trail to let them pass. There wasn’t any people. There was an orange cone that looked very much like a person until…. it wasn’t. Me and Chris had seen some black cats… that weren’t black cats we later learned. Anyhow we again made our way. The sun came out, moving us back into T-shirts. Moving faster then I though we would at this point we ran swiftly over roots and rocks. Very quickly around 80-85km the dread and frustration of how much we had left to do would rush into my head and I’d let out a rude comment of some sort about how much I hated the trail. We have now named the BP. The BFPB. The F and the last B being swear words of course. Arriving at Lynn Headwaters… we were hungry we decided to sit on a bench in the trail and eat. As we were sitting I had looked down and noticed both of my socks had slid down to the middle of my foot and my bare skin had been rubbing against the back of my shoes long enough to draw blood…lots of blood. Chris says “oh I saw that awhile back I just though it was your sock”… my socks had pink edges fair enough. Oddly it didn’t hurt at all so I just pulled up my socks. What did start to hurt and hurt REALLY BAD was the bottoms of my feet. It felt as though the skin on the bottoms of my feet were going to peel right off with every step. The bottoms of my feet were BURNING!! and I was really scared at the thought of taking off my socks.
Two PB&J’s later we got up and started to now “run shuffle”. I was so amazed at how my body still felt… if it weren’t for the bottoms of my feet, my legs, muscles and brain were all still great! I could run! and I did with the pain I now had. We still had a few more climbs and the final 6km decent through lots of “the public” to the finish line. Just at the bottom of the Seymour Grind we ran into Dylan Morgan! He had finished his 2016 VAN100 race yesterday, Saturday! (its now Sunday) He was out on the trails checkin in on some racers. Lucky for us he decided to tag along for our last climb and decent. Not that talking and not talking to Chris was getting old… haha but it was nice to see a new face and share some new stories to distract me from the bottoms of my feet and the fact that I was climbing again at km 94. Climb over and now running all the way to the entrance to Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, 2.5kms left. But its “THE PUBLIC”!!!!!!!! this section of trail is so overused by people, tourists… its DO NOT ENTER ON A SATURDAY OR SUNDAY!!! Kids, people who don’t know how to walk in a trail etc. Well a quick “lets do this” as we enter. Running and hobbling I’m shouting EXCUSE ME CAN I PLEASE PASS IM TRYING TO FINISH A RACE! People get startled and eventually figure out that that means move to the side, move over, get out of the way! We reach the final set of stairs to climb up… I see a guy running with a VAN100 finishers patch on his backpack… I asked him if he got that patch last year?! Turns out he earned that patch for 2014 VAN100 and we told him we were just about to finish our first one! He ran with us, along with Dylan to the finish line! When we approached the finial set of stairs in the trail to descend my heart started pounding and my eyes filled with tears for only ONE SECOND. I had thought of this moment for what seemed like forever… and now I was here. The tears went away.
We popped out of the trail to see all of our friends and my parents there waving and cheering for us! They were all crowded around what they though was the official (unofficial) finish line… a fire hydrant but they were at the wrong one!… We had to keep running past them! We managed to barely doge “the public” along the side walk to the fire hydrant at the beginning of the parking lot that is the “finish line”. They all followed behind us! and that was it… 30 hours 48 minutes later. We were back where we started. Stronger than ever. Smiles on our faces. Surrounded by those who supported us the most.
Good thing that was just a training run for our race in September, Transalpine! 7 days… 60,000 feet elevation gain and loss. Oh and yes my feet… oh and my gear, training and nutrition are to follow in the next blog. Stay tuned.
A huge thank you to all of our friends and families for supporting our crazy asses!