What goes through your mind when you step up to the start line of a race?
Excitement? Anxiety? Focus? Determination? Confidence? Hope?
Now, what do you think goes through your mind when you’re at the start of a race that’s been named ‘The Blood’? Gulp.
Let’s just say that my mind was racing with pure terror as I toed the line for the first stage of the Golden Ultra a few weekends ago. Not in terms of my safety but just an overwhelming fear that I quite possibly might not be able to do it.
The Golden Ultra is a challenging 3-day stage race and Day 1 was ‘The Blood’ – a grueling 5km course, straight uphill, taking us upwards of 1,000m in elevation gain. Designated as an official ‘vertical km’ by the SkyRunning Series, it was going to be a toughie and it had my knees shaking!
It was a small field but I started to feel a bit better after we got to the start line and chatted with the other runners. We were all in this together and I’m pretty certain I wasn’t the only one wondering how they would fare. Uphill isn’t exactly my strength as a trail runner so this race pretty much represented the ultimate challenge for me.
After a final adjustment to the height of my hiking poles (nothing like trying new gear on race day, right?) we took a couple last pics and were off!
As we crossed the start line everyone broke into a run but I didn’t last long before I was already walking. The course started by taking us straight up the lower ski hills of Kicking Horse Mountain, which at this time of year was just a mixture of grass, mud and gravel.
I’d never run with poles before so I spent some time trying to figure out the most comfortable stride with the poles. They didn’t exactly feel natural but I did my best and tried to find some kind of rhythm.
I didn’t have much of strategy for this run other than to just survive it. I tried to think of it as a much longer Grouse Grind and just approach it like a long, slow, steady climb. I had 55km to preserve myself for the next day so I was happy to just plug along and get it done.
I quickly fell behind my friends but was okay with that because I didn’t expect that I’d be able to keep up to them anyways. I ran along with another runner I knew from Vancouver and we had fun stopping for pics as we started to gain some elevation.
We eventually got to the top of the grassy hill and ran up a short stretch of gravel service road. By this time I’d found a bit of a rhythm with the poles, just in time to cruise into the aid station at XXkm. When we got there, we found that the others had waited for us, which was awesome so after a quick pit stop we carried on as a group again.
From the aid station the course took us straight up another section of grassy incline, so steep that I was thankful to have the poles. There were rocks and muddy patches to help with the footing but it was tough at times finding somewhere to place my feet without slipping. It was so nice to be back with my friends again because we chatted the whole way up which took my mind off how steep it was.
It seemed like the steep grassy section went on forever but we eventually got to another service road and took a sharp turn onto another trail straight up a rock field. It was still steep but the footing was so much easier because the rocks basically made a staircase for us. In some ways, this trail was a bit of a rest in comparison to that crazy grassy section.
We had now gained more than half of our total elevation and the views were getting to be so incredible. It had been lovely the whole way but this trail took us up a different peak and the terrain was so rocky and more alpine, it was gorgeous.
There were four of us in the group and we had a good little rhythm going as we climbed through this final section and marveled at how beautiful it was. I was definitely getting pretty tired by this point but we were keeping a good pace. While the rock ‘stairs’ were easier for footing, I always find them a bit more tiring than climbing on trail and I could really feel it in my quads and hamstrings.
Even though this was a ‘run’ I had basically hiked the whole thing which is pretty much what I planned to do. Solana made us run in a couple sections to get some photos, which was hard but so worth it in the end.
Finally, we made it to the final ridge and knew we were just minutes from the finish line. This last alpine section had been so beautiful that despite being so tired, the time passed quickly and I couldn’t believe we were so close to the finish.
I tried to manage a shuffle for the final push to the finish but my tired legs just didn’t want to move. Once I got off the incline I managed to run the last 100m and crossed the finish line with a huge smile and my friends cheering.
I have to be honest and say that I seriously considered not running this stage of the race because I was worried it ruin me for the ultra on Day 2. But crossing that finish line, feeling like we were on top of the world made the grueling climb and burning legs so worth it.
I was so tired but so pumped for the rest of the weekend. We took a few more photos at the top before taking the gondola down, getting cleaned up and heading out for the pre-race dinner for Saturday’s ultra marathon…