Coming back from an injury STRONGER than ever {My Elk Valley Ultra 50k Experience}

Coming back from an injury STRONGER than ever {My Elk Valley Ultra 50k Experience}

I went into this race scared shittless of the climbing, the distance and my capabilities post injury. 

First may I start by introducing to you the race, what drew me to it and all that.

The Elk Valley Ultra 50K is in Fernie BC, a seriously beautiful mountain town only about 3.5 hours north of where we live. Stag Leap Running Co. organizes the race and this was their first year putting on this particular event, but wow did they have a crazy turn out!

Here is my video about all this, watch it now or after you read this post :)

The course is 50k or about 32 miles of intenseness, intense climbing and intense beauty. There was 9,500ft of elevation gain which makes it one of the most challenging 50k courses in North America! 

I found out about the race from our local run 7B (Sandpoint) running group friends, many of which had signed up for it and began to tell Gwen and myself about it. I took one look at the photos from the course and immediately said yes, I am in FOR SURE… without fully realizing what i was getting myself into. I did not even read the elevation profile or anything, the beauty of the mountains sold me, I knew this was a mountain adventure I could NOT miss!

That was back in January or something like that, not too sure but a while ago, way before my injury I sustained back in May at my last 50k trail race.

Basically what happened there was I over-trained going in and then pushed way too hard for my capabilities and condition during the race and aggravated/strained my quad/hip-flexor/IT-band. (You can read my blog post on all that here) I took a month off and then slowly eased back into easy runs, with no elevation.. and then we went to France for the month of June.. did I mention that we were in the FLAT part of France, with no climbing and no elevation at all! 

I had not even done any long-runs yet and I was only 5 weeks out from Fernie 50k!

So while in France I started my real training again and got in 2 long runs, one 22 miler and one 20 miler feeling like the distance was really difficult on my recovering leg. During that first 22 miler I even had to slow down to about 11 mins/mile for the last 4 miles just to keep running because I was feeling like my weakness from the injury was setting in. Luckily the next 20 mile run I felt much stronger, but I was really nervous not to re-injure it and be out again.

Back to Sandpoint after that, and I had 2 weeks to get my mountain legs back before I had to taper a little for the 50k, which is NOT really enough time at all… But it is what i had, and I was going to make it work.

I approached my training after my injury very differently, pre-injury I was excited about mileage and pushing my limits there, but it was the spring and the trails had not really opened up- leaving us with nothing but dirt roads to run.. so miles were the only thing we could focus on to keep us sane, and it was fun.. but post-injury everything had changed, the seasons and my thoughts regarding training. 

The thing was, I knew that I was not going to be ready to compete and race at my potential at Fernie, it was too soon and I did not have proper time to train for it.

So knowing this, I wanted to use this 32 mile /50k race as a way to get stronger.. A way to explore, have fun and see new places while taking my fitness to the next level, ultimately gearing up for the big summer ahead.

My heart is set on a few key races this summer!

 #1 is The RUT 50k in Montana, September 3rd.

This is a super famous race and there will be lots of big names there, the Salomon team, Emily Rosberg (maybe Killian) and other outstanding athletes. This would be my chance to see how I can do as a small fish in a big pound!

The next key race for me is my first 100 Miler, way to close to the RUT but oh-well, on September 23rd- Mountain Lakes 100 in Oregon. 

-With all this in mind, I figured that Fernie 50k would be a great way to build strength and confidence after my injury.. and if all went well and I just finished it feeling good, injury free, I would be super happy!

So this changed the way I ran the 3 weeks leading into the race for sure, I was not looking at specific runs as miles, but more about how I could maximize the fun each day out there on the trails.. I missed trails and mountains so much that I wanted to make the best of it.

I didn't care about miles or elevation actually.. I just cared about fun.

I went on all the group adventure runs and did not count weekly miles or calculate gain.. My friends running the race with me were constantly talking about the climbing and gain that we will have during the race, and how they specifically want to mimic it in their training and clock in a certain amount of vert each week… but all this was not what I wanted to think about… I was in a different place mentally, and I think it paid off. 

Hearing them talk about the crazy amount of vert and steep climbs in the race, their weekly climbing in training and the absurd distance between aid-stations at the 50k all gave me some perspective though, and all I knew for sure was it was going to be really, really hard...Much harder than any course I had ever ran, and much more climbing than I had trained for.. but also on some of the most beautiful trails I had ever seen! This is what I allowed my mind to focus on, that it was going to be fucking hard and extremely beautiful, the entire race.

The day before the race, a bunch of us were driving up together and it was not until then that we found out that Gwen could not come!!! He had signed up to be a wild-land fire fighter and was on call, and basically had to stay because there was a big fire in Montana that they needed him to join at any moment, any hour, any day… 

So I went up without Gwen and with my fiends, what would I do without them!!! <3

 

THE RACE

I woke up with something feeling off in my stomach..

As I sipped my morning espresso at 4:15am,  and attempted to eat my oatmeal I just made, I really noticed this off feeling in my gut. I will never know what it was due to, perhaps it was nerves or stress of doing this race without Gwen. Everything feels off when he is not with me, we do EVERYTHING together and basically I had never ran a race without him.. 

5:30AM we are on the start line, dropping our “drop-bags” and listening to the race directors give the race meeting. Nerves set in, excitement, joy, love, happiness and all those feelings you get as your watching the sunrise in the mountains, knowing that this day ahead of you is going to be freaking EPIC.

As we lined up at the start line, I was unsure as to where to go, what position do I start in?

Gwen and I always start up at the very front, pushing our limits and competing to do our very best. But today, I knew that this was not in the cards for me, I needed to run easy and play it safe, but this is not something I am familiar with when it comes to race day. So I quickly found my group of friends and we started in mid-pack, and that is where we intended to stay for the first third of the race or so.

6AM sharp we are off to the start of out 32 mile day, runners where expecting it to take anywhere between 7 hours and 10 hours to complete, but no one knows because it was the first race here on this course!

We start the day with a 1 mile packed group of what seemed like 300 people, weaving through dirt roads along the river, through town and to the edge of mount Fernie, the 1st and biggest climb of the day. 

I am not going to go into the details of the race because I would be wasting your time, as the video I made does a much better job at that.

But what I do want to share is some of the things that went through my head that I perhaps forgot to say while racing.. that tends to happen after about 20 miles of running!!!!

Basically it was a really different experience running mid-pack and forcing myself to bold back for so long. I really think it helped me though, because my endurance and strength was not 100%, if I had gone out faster with the top women, I probably would have crashed hard around mile 20, and perhaps even re-injured myself.

It was not easy to do this, but I really am grateful for the experience. I feel that after this race and my prior injury, I now know my body SO MUCH BETTER. 

I am constantly learning and trying to run within my own limits. That last injury sure helped, and running this race without competing or racing, really allowed me to listen to my legs, my injury and stay safe and get stronger!!

I feel really good about the race, I finished in 8 hours 8 minutes, which felt really long and slow.. But it turns out that I was not that far back from the top ladies, and I finished 11th place in the ladies, with about 5 of them finishing only 10 minutes ahead of me! The 1st place lady was amazing, Becky Bates - she finished in something like 7 hour flat which took 5th place overall! Congrats to her and everyone else!

After the weekend and a few days off, I am now feeling really strong and confident for my upcoming 50 Miler on August 19th.

I know that the 32 miles in Fernie made me stronger and that I am ready for a 50 miler. It will be my 3rd 50 Miler. My first was with a team and we took a whopping 13 hours to finish it.. My second was Le Grizz 50 outside of Glacier National Park and I finished 3rd place in 7 hours 56 minutes! 

I am excited and eager to see how I will do this weekend… I do not feel like I am ready to compete at 100%, but I will probably push a little more than I did in Fernie, but still keep lots reserved because 50 miles is a long freaking way!

My goal race will be the Rut 50K, so i need to not destroy myself for that.. And i need tor recover well from this 50 to be ready for that only 2 weeks after!

Then my 100 miler on Sept 23rd, which my goal is JUST TO FINISH! 

And we just now signed up for The North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge in San Fran CA on November 18th!!! We were surprised that we met the requirements to registered as an elite runner in wave A…with all the pros!!!! So we will see if we make that cut, it all depends on how many people register as elites, and how many of them have faster qualifying times. Fingers crossed but how freaking cool would it be for us to be starting with all those amazing inspiring runners!!!? OMG, dream come true! 

Anyway, this has turned into a huge post, so I need to wrap it up.

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Thanks for reading this post, I am still new at all this and don't quite know what the hell I am doing.. 

Love you guys!

-Katie


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