Now that I’m feeling up to posting again, I have a ton of things I need to catch up on and race reports seem like a good place to start. I actually ran in several races in the past two months and some definitely turned out better than others. Good or bad, I always enjoy recapping the events I run so here goes…

I had always planned to run 5 Peaks Cypress Mountain but with everything that had just happened, I really wasn’t sure if I would make it in the end. I’d gotten out for one run – a slow, solo climb of the Grouse Grind – but wasn’t sure if attending a race was really the right place to be. 

I knew that getting out to run was going to be an important part of dealing with how I was feeling but races are always such fun, upbeat events and I wasn’t sure if a) I was feeling up to it and b) if it was appropriate. In grief, I think it’s common to question what is the ‘right’ thing to do, the ‘right’ thing to say and the ‘right’ way to act but I think there really is no ‘right’ in all of it. Grief can be so consuming that any activity that can make you feel better, even if just for a short time, is worth doing.

My family was actually quite insistent that I go as long as I was feeling up to it. I knew they were probably right and knowing how much running could lift my spirits, I decided to go. A few hours on the trails would likely do me some good was my hope.

Helping out at the registration table was a good distraction to start off the day...

Helping out at the registration table was a good distraction to start off the day… (Photo Credit: Rob Shaer for 5 Peaks)

The Cypress Mountain courses had been redesigned this year and had been promised to be toughies. In general, a ‘tough’ trail race doesn’t really excite me because that typically means lots of climbing and I’m a horrible climber. I’ll eventually get to the top but I’m slow. Several friends said they were planning to take it easy too so I was thankful to possibly have a few people with me the whole way.

The course started off through some gentle uphill trails before heading through some nicely groomed, gravel trails around a few little lakes. It didn’t take long before we had gotten high enough that we already had some beautiful views. I had been feeling kind of emotional at the start of the race so seeing these beautiful views helped lift my spirits a bit.

I’m the second one back, plodding along… (Photo credit: Rob Shaer/5 Peaks)

I’m the second one back, plodding along… (Photo credit: Rob Shaer for 5 Peaks)

We eventually found our way over to the first really big climb. Ugh. It was a loose stony surface and if I didn’t know any better I would have sworn we were walking straight up a 90 degree wall! I’m exaggerating but it was definitely a steep incline and tough slog up. It was a pretty warm day and this climb was taking absolutely everything out of me.

The coarse rock gave way to a rock staircase that never seemed to end (even though I could see the top!)

The coarse rock gave way to a rock staircase that never seemed to end (even though I could see the top!)

I was managing my way up but it was at a very slow crawl. Understandably, I just didn’t feel like I had very much energy and I didn’t exactly have the drive to dig deep and power up. Two friends had settled in with me and it seemed had made the decision to stick with me as we chatted. I was thankful for their company as we talked about everything – it was one of the first chances I’d had to get things off my chest.

We finally made it to the top and by then I was barely able to breathe. It was helpful to talk about everything but at the same time I was getting teary by doing so and it was making it very tough to breathe properly. Mix it in with the heat and I just wasn’t doing very great in terms of running this race. I was determined to get through it though so I didn’t really care about my pace.

From there we made our way through some really beautiful areas where we passed lakes and ran boardwalks and through alpine-y areas. Compared to what I could recall from the previous year at Cypress Mountain, the new course was just lovely.

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One of the little lakes we ran by…

Since the terrain had levelled off, my breathing settled way down and I was able to enjoy the run a lot more. Our conversation had changed to our usual types of talk and hearing what was new with my friends was a very welcome distraction. I really enjoyed this portion of the race because it was a great mix of fun single-track trails that eventually made their way back into forest as we headed towards the big viewpoint of the race.

So pretty...

So pretty…

To get to Eagle Bluffs there was an out-and-back section we had to run. It started with us finally getting to run a bit of downhill on a fairly narrow, single track trail. This section was actually quite muddy and we ended up stepping off the trail quite a bit to let the faster runners, who were already on the return, pass by. It was fun to run the downhill but the tired, emotionally and physically drained portion of myself was sad because I knew it meant we had to go back uphill on the way out.

I’m not really a big fan of out-and-backs but it was nice getting to pass everyone. There were a few times where I may have been crying and although it was likely confusing to them, it helped to see other friends pass by and say hello.

We finally found ourselves at Eagle Bluffs and the clouds had just rolled in!

We finally found ourselves at Eagle Bluffs and the clouds had just rolled in!

Even with the clouds that were just coming in, the view at Eagle Bluffs was beautiful. I eagerly plopped myself down for a little break and a snack and didn’t care at all that I was in the middle of a race. My friends had been so good for staying with me at my achingly slow pace and I figured that with everything going on, I deserved a little sit-down with no questions asked.

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I finally got back on my feet and we headed out. The few moments staring out at the view helped clear my mind a little and I felt better on the way out. I didn’t exactly enjoy the bits of climbing I knew we’d encounter but our chatting kept me somewhat focused and we slowly made our way. I was feeling super sluggish and walked way more than I wanted to.

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These cairns marked the start of the downhill that would take us to the finish line…

I was so excited when I realized that we were at the top of the final downhill section that would take us to the finish line. Unfortunately it was one tough, steep downhill! The surface was fairly rocky and loose and with how I was feeling, my tired legs were pretty much sucking as I tried to run down. I finally gave in and just walked. A much less-than-triumphant finish to one of the toughest races I have ever run. The course was gorgeous and challenging but a bit more than I was feeling up to on that particular day. 

Just as I got close to the bottom of the hill, I heard my sister cheer me on and saw my niece and nephew running up to meet me. It had been such a tough run, physically and emotionally, I totally started to bawl at this point and cried as they ran me in. I was a bit embarrassed to cross the finish line, full tears, right in the middle of the awards ceremony but a big long hug from good friend and race director extraordinaire Solana really helped.

Cypress - best hug ever

I walked straight through the crowd and sat down at the registration table and cried into my Buff. The course was definitely challenging but that wasn’t the reason I was bawling my eyes out as many people in the crowd must have assumed. Many times I’ve heard people describe that they ‘left it all out there on the course’ and I feel like that’s what I did at Cypress. While those other people I think are referring to giving it their all in terms of physical effort, I feel like I ‘left it all out there’ in terms of my sadness and emotions. Letting it all out and having a good cry was just what I needed, even if it had to be in front of so many people.

Most of my close friends knew what had happened but many other running friends were unaware and yet still offered hugs, kind words and encouragement. The kind texts and messages I received after that race were amazing because so few people knew why I was so upset and yet they all reached out to help in any way they could.

In terms of performance, Cypress was one of my worst races yet. But that being said, the new course was so pretty and I’m sure next year I’ll be feeling so much more up for the challenge. Feedback from racers sounds like it was super positive about the new course so I’m choosing to believe that my assessment of how tough it was was heavily skewed.

In terms of everything else, Cypress Mountain was an important part of the last two months. I am a big believer that there is actually a lot we can do to help ourselves get through difficult emotional times and I think exercise is a big part of that. Going for a run won’t ever change the fact that you’re sad, or lonely or hurt but it can definitely affect how your body feels. And when your body is feeling strong and well-cared-for I think we’re better able to handle the stressful effects of whatever is happening at that time.

So no, running Cypress didn’t take any of this away but it sure helped me cope. And the plus side to having run (walked) such a slow pace? More time spent with good friends on beautiful trails and I couldn’t have possibly needed anything more that day than I needed that.

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