I am five kilometres into my final leg at the Blackspur Ultra this past August. Dusk has set and its about to get quite dark once the trail drops back into the trees. I look down at my watch and notice the battery icon is flashing. Crap. I forgot to get Eric’s watch after I finished leg 5 and before I started leg 6. My watch is a very basic garmin and only lasts for about four hours before it dies. I had asked Eric to borrow his garmin (which is far superior to mine) for the final leg, knowing that mine would eventually die. Oh well, it’s not the end of the world not knowing the exact distance remaining once it dies. Just then another thing occurred to me… much more important than the watch for me. I had asked Eric to pack my bearspray for me at the transition as I knew I would feel more comfortable having it while running in the dark. Was it in my pack? I don’t remember seeing it get put in. But I’m sure he remembered to put it in right? Right? Right?
The Blackspur Ultra is a 108km ultramarathon and relay that is held annually in Kimberley, British Columbia near the end of August. This was its fifth year in existence and was another product of Sinister Sports, the company that also operates Sinister 7 and the Canadian Death Race. My son Eric who I am constantly trailing with (and behind), had expressed an interest in this race the previous year. There were six legs for the 108km distance and if we had three runners, each doing two legs, then each runner’s distance would be between 34 and 38kms. Eric was wanting to move past the 25km distance that he had become accustomed with over the past year. As a father, I did not want my son progressing in distance too quickly since he was still growing and I wanted to avoid any sort of long term injury so early in his running career. I had slowly brought up his race distances over the past year. But now he was wanting to do more. And honestly he was strong enough to do it. I contacted my good buddy Carl and we entered the race. The Flying Moose, as our team has been called for about ten years, was re-born with some youngblood!
I had never been to Kimberley but had been nearby in places such as Panorama. I was told by the race director that we would love this course, mainly due to the great singletrack that it offered. Training went well and we felt prepared as we arrived on the Thursday before the race. Carl had booked a place for us and we were fortunate enough to find that it was located just off the ski hill, about a ten minute walk to the race start. There was a great energy when we picked up our race packages on the Friday and attended the pre-race meeting. This event was much smaller in scale than Sinister 7 and Canadian Death Race and had more of a “neighbourly” feel to it.
The race started on Saturday morning and Eric had the first two legs. The start made us all smile because everyone had their game faces on, the gun went off and everyone charged ahead… for about one hundred metres before they got turned straight up the ski hill for the next kilometre! The quick start gradually became a slow walk up the hill. Not Eric though! He was running around some people, walking for a bit, then running more to get better positioning. And that was the last we would see of him for the next couple of hours. What a great day it was. We had put up our shelter right near the transition area and had a clear view of the ski hill. Every leg started and ended by runners going up and down the ski hill so there was really no way we could miss our runner. The first few runners came in and it was very impressive. Two soloists in the 108km distance and two soloists in the 54km distance were the first four runners in after leg 1. Then to our amazement, over the loudspeaker comes… “First team coming in is Flying Moose!” What?? Eric was the top team runner to complete leg 1? Eric flew down the hill and into the transition area. He was feeling good, got some nutrition and was back up the hill. Carl and I looked at each other and had a conversation about how it must feel to be seventeen again!
Leg two was a little different for Eric. Turns out just past the 25km mark he started to get a bit of an upset stomach and had to walk on and off for a few kilometres. Then his legs started throbbing. When he came in, he looked done! He had a couple of teams pass him on the second leg, but most of these teams had six runners, so every leg they were sending out someone fresh. What Eric accomplished, coming in after 34 total kilometres, was a record distance for himself and in very good time. I was very proud of him and it was the first time we hadn’t actually started a race together. Usually we would start a race together and he would take off on me at some point, but we had each other to keep company for part, if not all of the race. This was not only a physical test for Eric, but a mental one as well. There were struggles, but he learned from them and will be stronger next time.
Carl set out on legs three and four. Carl is great to run with. Super laid back, loves the trails and is funny as hell. Carl had done his own training for the race and his long runs weren’t as long as ours were, but the thing about Carl and what I love about having him on a team, is that he always gets it done. He came in off leg 3 looking and feeling not too bad but had some aches and pains. Leg four was a different story as his body rebelled on him. About half the leg was climbing and he struggled with it. But hey, we weren’t in any sort of hurry so he could take as long as needed, as long as he finished.
Now the thing about being on a relay team is that you have to guess when your runner is coming in and be ready for them so that you can get out on course right away. As a team we usually set our rough estimates before the race so that the next runner knows when to be ready. You don’t want to be the guy or girl that is not ready when your relay runner comes in to transition with you. This happened to me once at the Banff Jasper Relay. I was part of a team based out of Sherwood Park and did not know most of the runners. I was connected through a friend at work and it sounded like a great opportunity to run in the mountains. I was running leg three which was north of Lake Louise on Highway 93. My distance was 21kms, the weather was great and I was feeling good. The leg ended on a long downhill with the transition at Mosquito Creek Campground. I came flying down that hill when I saw the transition area and flew right through the finish. Everyone was cheering and clapping and then silence. “Where is my runner? Are you kidding me? What do I do?” I went from being relieved to finish so strong to a feeling of disbelief bordering on anger. There was murmuring all around as the crowd could not believe what they were seeing. Finally one of the race volunteers came over and told me “you can keep running and once your runner arrives we will get them to drive up the highway and you can switch when you see them.” I was exhausted. I had given pretty much all I had and the thing about Mosquito Creek Campground is that it’s downhill going to it, but as soon as you pass the campground, you have a long uphill on the other side. Well, what choice did I have. Being a fairly competitive person, I chose to keep moving since the clock wasn’t stopping. I ended up running about three kilometres before a car pulled up beside me with my runner. “We are so sorry, we misjudged how long it would take to get here.” In my head all I could think was that they should have been here about an hour ago, well in advance of me coming in. I handed off to the next runner, got into my vehicle with my wife who was following me on the side of the road, and never wanted to see that person again. Turns out I didn’t ever see them again. Hopefully if they ever entered another relay event, they were better prepared.
Anyways, back to Blackspur. Carl was late. I was ready in advance of when I thought he would be in. I kept running to the bathroom to pee. I was nervous, excited and really had wanted to finish during daylight. But I knew that was an outside chance to begin with. We would see runners coming down the hill and say “I think that’s Carl” and I would scuttle over to the transition area only to see that it was someone else. Finally, Carl did come down the hill and he seemed fine. When he got down to the transition area though he was done. He exclaimed that Blackspur had kicked his butt. I was just glad to see my friend in one piece and at the transition area. So off I went into the trees and straight up the ski hill!
Leg five was great. So much windy single track and rooty terrain. I tripped and fell about three kilometres in, giving myself a cut up knee, but nothing too serious. The conditions were perfect and I had hoped to complete the 18km leg in two hours. I finished in two hours and one minute. Perfect. I was feeling good and wanted to get as much daylight as possible so I wanted a quick transition. The problem is that I hadn’t told anyone else that I wanted a quick transition. So I pulled into where my crew was and got my bladder filled up in my pack and threw my headlamp into my pack. The only thing I had asked Eric to do between legs was to give me his watch and put my bearspray into my pack. I came in hot and wanted to get back out quickly. While I was talking to my crew, I was assuming Eric was putting things in my pack. I quickly stopped at the food tent and continued onto leg 6.
Fast forward to the beginning of this post where I am in a meadow in very little daylight. I put my headlamp on and notice the watch battery icon. Crap, I forgot to get the watch. No big deal, I can live with it. Then I was looking around the meadow thinking “this would be where I would likely see a bear. But did the bearspray get into my pack?” The funny thing about races is you often don’t want to stop. And I didn’t want to stop to check. I figured if it was in the back of the pack that would be great, and if not… well… I didn’t really want to go back five kilometres to get it and then come back another five kilometres to this point. The odds were low of running into wildlife, but this was the one time I was running on a course such as this without my bear spray. I continued on and it got dark fast. I was about halfway through the final leg when I came around a corner on a trail and my right foot hit a rock. I had a lot of momentum and I was coming down a hill. What did this equal? A complete yardsale on the trail. I flew into the air and landed squarely on my right shoulder. I yelled out in pain. My headlamp flew off. My hiking poles were gone. I was certain I had broken my arm. “Okay Scott, take a few deep breaths and calm yourself” I thought. I found my headlamp down the trail. The poles were found in the bushes. “What was that noise in the bushes? I’m sure that must be another runner right? But that came from the trees, not the trail!” I knew that my arm was in rough shape but I got everything back together and was back on the trail moving forward in quick fashion! At the aid station shortly after I saw my shoulder was a bloody mess. The volunteers were great and offered to fix it up, but I wanted to keep going and told them it would make for a better finish line photo.
Ultimately I finished the final nine kilometres and had never been so happy to see a finish line. As I was running down the ski hill to the finish I was thinking to myself… I wonder if that bear spray was actually in my pack? Once we finished, crossing the line together as a team, I asked Eric about the watch and of course, the bear spray. He replied “oh, no I guess I didn’t give those to you.” I was on the final leg for two hours and forty five minutes and his response indicated that he hadn’t even clued in to the fact that it was forgotten. Gotta love teenagers! As we were walking over to the medics to get my shoulder looked at, he says to me “Dad you did great but what took you so long on that last leg?” Maybe I would have been faster if I had been chased by a bear? Thank goodness I had my bearspray with me. Oh wait…