Last year I found it really tough to sit down and write a race report for the Run for Water ultra marathon because I was so overcome by emotion (but I finally did it). It was my first ultra, I was injured during training, I really struggled on race day but I made it and the whole thing was really profound.
This year, I’ve needed a few days to collect my thoughts because I’m similarly overcome, although it’s not with the emotion of such a difficult feat. I think this year, it’s more like pure joy and gratitude. Quite simply, it was a perfect day.
The Friday before the ultra was pretty busy as I squeezed in a visit to the race expo and all kinds of last minute errands and preparations. I’m a habitual over-packer so I was busy perfecting the mountain of gear and food I was taking with me. As well, dinner ended up being later than planned, I got to bed later than I wanted and even ran out of time for that long, relaxing stretching session I planned. Oops. I was worried but hoped that these little things wouldn’t be factors the next day.
The next morning I was pretty peppy as I jumped out of bed for my 4:30 am alarm. I was so calm compared to last year as I hauled all my wares out to the car and headed off to Abbotsford. For weeks the forecast had been for full-on rain but the skies were looking pretty promising as I drove. Phew!
I was only the second person to arrive at our meeting spot but one by one the others started showing up. It was so nice knowing many of the runners from last year and we chatted and hugged as we assembled. Are you ready? How did your training go? How much stuff did you bring? There were several new people on the team this year but everyone seemed in good spirits and excited to run as we introduced ourselves.
Our intrepid leader (and just amazing guy all around) Ray Zahab showed up with big smiles. It’s pretty awesome to get the chance to spend time with one of your running idols and even more so when he knows you and greets you with a hug. Even after having just travelled 24 hrs straight from his Atacama desert expedition and only getting a couple hours of sleep, he was still full of energy and excitement.
Our run was set to begin at the Vedder Bridge in Chilliwack but due to a snafu at the depot our bus was unable to pick us up so we piled into cars and drove out to the start. One of the guys in my car had raised an incredible $4,100 and this would be his first ultra after only a half marathon previously! Normally I’d be nervous about a jump like that but there is just something about Run for Water that makes you feel you can do anything and with Ray Zahab involved, you usually can.
There were a few family members there at the start to see us off so we grabbed our stuff, got some final instructions, took a few pics and headed out right at 7:00.
Like last year, our first 10km of the run would be on the trails alongside the Vedder River. Packed gravel with the odd puddle to detour around, it’s a pretty nice start to a long day of running. Last year I was choking down my nerves but this year I was excited and confident and trying to chat with as many of the runners as possible.
We reached our first rest stop around 6.5 km to find our support van and a small group of spectators there to see us. This was the first spot we met up with my family and it was so nice to see them. I took a quick break to grab a snack and change my shirt before we headed back out.
From this stop we carried on along a few more trails before heading out on a gravelled dyke for quite awhile. The route was a bit different from last year and they made an effort to get us off the road and onto some softer trails wherever they could.
Somewhere around the 14km mark, we came upon our second rest stop at Yarrow Park. The plan was that some stops would be quickies, meant for taking a drink or grabbing a snack and others would be a bit longer for bathroom breaks and clothing changes. The Yarrow Park stop was a bit shorter and we got to mill around for a bit and visit with our families and friends before heading back out.
The km past this rest stop and through Yarrow just flew as another teammate and I got lost in our conversation. That’s the great part of a run like this – it’s not a race, everyone is meant to stay mostly together. Being that we were going at such a relaxed pace it was easy to kick back and chat as the km ticked by. It was such a nice way to get to know some new friends.
All of a sudden I heard it off in the distance. It was the unmistakeable sound of Solana’s horn. I’d been texting a bit with her to let her know how we were doing and it seems we were about to come across them for the first time. As we got closer I could hear huge roars and tons of cheering as they saw us approach. And I also thought I could see a tutu…?
I knew that a couple friends were planning to be out there to see us but I had no idea so many and no idea they were planning such silly outfits! Tutus, grass skirts, 80’s workout gear and a pirate? So awesome. Everyone loved their energy and got much needed hugs and high-fives as we ran by.
It was such a great boost to see these guys and I couldn’t help but laugh as we carried on. These guys have always been amazing supporters but coming out to cheer has become just as much fun as running the events themselves and it means so much.
And what do you know, we ran into them again, not much further down the road! This time, they kind of surprised us by tucking themselves around the corner and under this railway bridge…
At this point we were about 27 km into our run and I couldn’t believe we were already past halfway. Whereas last year I was really struggling by this point and definitely in the ‘dark zone’, this year I was feeling great, still had tons of energy and barely noticed I’d just run 27 km. It was turning out to be an amazing day.
And there’s lots to say about any ‘amazing’ day so I think I’ll break and continue this epic story in another post, stay tuned!