I spent most of the winter training for Raid the North Extreme which is a 6 day, 500km, non-stop Adventure race in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia. Our team raced for 5 days (that’s 126 hours) on 12 hours of sleep and ended up not finishing (DNF’ing). After all the time spent training, the gear, the money spent, and all the logistics that were involved, I was left feeling flat and unfulfilled. I wanted some redemption. I wanted something long, tough, and epic. I immediately thought about the PLAIN 100! Plain is one of the most epic 100 milers in the country with an unmarked course, no aid stations, and no pacers. You are expected to carry your own food, fetch water from streams and rivers, climb 24,000ft of cumulative elevation, and race in 95+ temperatures.
However, I had two issues. 1) I never ran a 100 miler and 2) I did not know the course. I would not have time to pre run the course and didn’t feel comfortable running it without proper preparation. So, I talked my good friend and adventure racing partner, Michelle, into running Plain with me. Michelle ran Plain back in 2007 and was the 3rd woman to ever finish, not only did she know the course she smoked the course in 31:55. (To this day, only 10 Women have finished Plain)
The race started at 5am on Saturday. Michelle set a strong pace from the beginning. We ran all the flats and downhill’s, and powered walked all the climbs. By early afternoon we came to the first Search and Rescue point, stated our number, and continued on track. We decided to put on our music for the long slog on the paved road and this is where we made our first navigation error. We missed the hairpin turn onto FS road 112. We continued to run down the road and came to a sign that said, “One Lane Bridge,” Oh crap! We checked the map and realized we missed our turn about 2 miles back! We looked at each other, turned around, and without saying a word, started power walking back uphill to FS road 112. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed. I thought to myself, “Not another DNF!”
If making that mistake wasn’t enough, we immediately made another mistake. After entering the cul-de-sac on FS Road 112, we went directly onto Hunter’s trail even though the instructions specifically stated “Do not take Hunter’s Trail!” We were so frustrated and flustered from our first error, that we didn’t double check the instructions. Not realizing our error, we filled our bladders at the river, and started climbing up Hunter’s trail. We both had our music on and after a few minutes I asked Michelle, “Is this the big climb?” She started to explain that we are supposed to go down a dusty climb and wind around a sharp bend before beginning the long climb. Something didn’t add up. She double checked the instructions and realized that we were supposed to turn LEFT in the cul-de-sac vs. right, and that we are (once again) on the wrong trail!
We were both totally frustrated and demoralized having lost quite a bit of time due to both errors. I wanted to finish this race more than anything. I did not want a DNF, and I especially did not want a DNF due to navigation errors….. “please….not a repeat of Raid the North Extreme”.
We found the correct trail and started the long climb up to Tyee Ridge. I knew going into the race that Michelle had a bad chest cold, and sleeping in the back of the truck the night before didn’t help. Even though she didn’t say as much, I knew that Michelle was doing this race for me. As such, I knew I might be running solo at some point and was mentally prepared if it came to that. Michelle struggled up the ridge and her chest cold got worse. ¾ of the way up the climb, she was so congested that she couldn’t even speak. Her voice was gone, and she didn’t feel well. For me, loop 2 was questionable at this point. At the summit, we decided that I should take off to make the cut-off time, and I knew that I would be pushing it. Between our navigation errors, the struggle up Tyee Ridge, dusk quickly approaching and never having run the course before, I wasn’t sure if it was possible.
Once the decision was made for us to split, I took off running, At this point, I had 18.5 miles left of loop 1 and about 67 miles total. I kept thinking to myself, “you are going to blow up”, but I was so determined to finish this race, that I gave it everything I had. I passed 9 people and thought, “Okay I have made up the time we lost (1:40) so I should be able to make it to the first cut-off time.” (Note – I was excited to pass people because I knew that I had made up time, not because of placing. This race was not about placing for me. This race was about finishing.) I was almost done with the first loop when three racers passed me. I was thankful because it showed that I had to continue at a steady, fast pace if I was going to make the cut-off.
At the end of loop 1, I ran to my truck, grabbed my Adventure Racing backpack (which was actually too big for a 100 miler) and stuffed it with warm clothing and gear for the next 15 hours. I knew I didn’t need all that gear, but from my past racing experiences, I knew that anything could happen in the mountains. I had no way of communicating with the race directors, so I packed for safety. I started loop 2 at 1:15 am hoping for the best. To officially finish, I had 15 hours and 45 minutes to complete loop 2.
During the 2nd loop, I made one more navigational error. I crossed road 62. I spent some time on the other side of the road looking for tracks and then I heard Tom’s voice in the back of my head from the race briefing the night before, “…If you cross road 62, you are going the wrong way. Backtrack a few hundred feet and you will find the trail.” I backtracked, looked at the map, and saw that the trail actually did take a hard right, so I continued up to Pond Camp Trail. Running solo through the night was my favorite part of the race.
I arrived at FR 6210 a little after sunrise. I was so thankful to see Tom, Chris, and some of the other volunteers waiting there. My first question to them was, “Do you think I have enough time to finish?” Tom & Chris said, “Yes, if you keep up the pace you’re going at…you can DO IT!” I looked at them and searched for reassurance.
I started the climb up to Pond Camp trail, and after about 15 minutes, I saw another racer. I asked, “Do you think we have enough time to finish?” He replied, “I am going to give it my best shot!” I continued past him and finally came to my next turn, Mad River. I was thankful for two reasons 1) because I was out of water and 2) that the trails had signs! My goal was to get to Alder Ridge and run as fast as I could down to Lower Chiwawa. I knew if I hit Lower Chiwawa by 2pm (without injuries) I would be able to finish. But, as I ran down Alder Ridge, I found myself stopping to grab food out of my pack, to splash water on my face from the streams, to put on Chap Stick, to fix my hat, etc. I was justifying reasons to stop every few seconds. From my adventure racing experience, I knew that little stops here and there add up, and that you must keep moving. Once I realized what I was doing, I was determined not to stop again until I reached Lower Chiwawa.
The heat was absolutely unbearable. I constantly looked at my watch and tried to add numbers in my head. “Can I finish on time?” This race was becoming a mental nightmare for me. I kept running the numbers in my head over and over and over.
It was about 1:15pm (18 hours after leaving Michelle) and I had 4 hours to finish. I popped out of Alder Ridge trail and thought, “Oh Crap!” because I thought I was going to pop out at Lower Chiwawa. I started to panic. I cannot have another DNF after my experience at Raid the North Extreme. As I looked at my notes and map, it said, “…cross this road, pop into this trail, and run this road for 2 miles.” My heart sunk because I realized that I had a lot farther to go than I had originally thought. Then, all of a sudden, I heard a “woot woot!” and looked up to see three racers who had been on my tail the entire time without my knowing. Thank God! It was such a relief to connect up with these guys for the last part of the run. I followed them into the trail, and over the next 12 miles, we stuck together. It was so hot that we splashed water over our heads at every water source, knowing we were close to finishing. All of a sudden, we rounded a turn, and there were all of the volunteers shouting and clapping for us. The four of us ran down the last section of the road into Deep Creek campground and the finish. We had FINISHED the Plain 100 in 35:11! (48 minutes to spare)
Below is a short blog about our DNF at Raid the North Extreme.