Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this one. I always have trouble writing race recaps but Golden Ultra was a whole other level. I was talking to Emily (@runemz) on our drive to the airport last Monday about how it’s nearly impossible to explain what actually happened. There aren’t enough words I can write that will take you through those three days – the things I felt, saw, accomplished. It was by far the hardest physical endeavour I have ever taken on in my entire life. I think back and ask myself how I even managed to get it done. There were so many moments of doubt and fear. I am really, really proud of myself for pushing through and tackling something so out of my comfort zone.
Let’s start with the basics –
How we got there: Emily and I flew into the Calgary Airport. We timed it so our flights came in around the same time and we wouldn’t have to wait too long for each other. I landed first, made my way over to the International section to meet her, we picked up our rental car, and drove three hours to Golden (British Columbia). Okay, maybe it took us longer than three hours because it was dark, there were no street lights, and I thought wildlife would jump out in front of the car at any given moment.
Where we stayed: We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Vagabond Lodge (thank you, Magi!). It was the cutest place with the most wonderful hosts, Lori and Ken. They cooked us (and other runners) breakfast every morning. There were a lot of options to suit any and all diets – oatmeal, fruit, eggs, pancakes, yogurt, fresh homemade bread, cereal, granola…seriously everything. Our room was cozy and had the most comfortable beds which I appreciated so, so much. The lodge was within walking distance of Friday’s race and about a 10-minute drive from the start line of Saturday and Sunday’s races.
Friday – Stage 1 – BLOOD – 5km – 1000m/3280 ft ascent
Official time -> 1:38:09
I wasn’t too worried about this day. It didn’t start until 4pm so we actually went on a mini road trip to Emerald Lake beforehand. Emily visited last year and said it was so beautiful so we wanted to check it out and go for a drive before the race.
We got back around 3pm, changed and then headed to the race. I was a tiny bit nervous but also had the “it’s only 5k” mentality. It would be over soon enough, right? Wrong!
Everyone took off running and I think about 30 seconds went by before all the runners started to hike/climb/walk really fast.
The incline was just so crazy, especially for such a short distance. There was this one part about 3km in (I think) that was so steep and I had to use my hands to climb. I remember seeing Emily waiting for me a few meters up ahead and I just yelled “this is bullshit!” I meant it in the best way possible… 😉
PC: Bruno Long
Small sections of the course were actual paths but for the most part (or so it seems), we were climbing up rocks and scaling through a field to get to the top. It was crazy but also incredibly beautiful. The views were absolutely breathtaking – I just could not believe what I was seeing. Once we got to the top, I had Emily snap a quick photo before we jumped into the gondola to head back down. It was pretty cold up there so we wanted to get back to the bottom of the mountain asap!
We went back to our room, showered, and then headed to the runner’s dinner (pasta and salads). We didn’t stay long because we wanted to get back and prep our stuff for the next day…but we did hunt for some chocolate first. Nothing was open so we had to hit up a vending machine – hah!
Saturday – Stage 2 – SWEAT – 60km – 2500m/8200ft ascent
Official time -> 12:03:37
Okay. Let me preface this by telling you that everyone who found out I had never run an ultra/only went on one trail run before Golden thought I was insane. I could tell by the way some people looked at me that they were convinced I wouldn’t finish. Part of me was offended but a bigger part of me was even more determined to get shit done. Tell me I can’t do something and I will fight with everything I have to prove you wrong.
PC: Bruno Long
I wasn’t in shape for this. I was far, far, FAR from being physically and mentally prepared for what was about to go down. I knew it was going to be hard but oh my goodness. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I think in my head I envisioned a runnable trail weaving back and forth up the mountain. A nice and steady uphill that would hurt but that was also pretty manageable. Well, I guess I can say that it wasn’t what I expected. It hurt (like hell) and it was (kind of) manageable…(I’m still alive, aren’t I?), but it wasn’t exactly a “runnable trail”.
PC: Bruno Long
Just like the day before, there were sections that involved climbing with our hands because the steepness was very, very real. We also hit a point where we had to boulder – it was crazy but I actually preferred this over scaling muddy mountain walls! Let’s add ridge running to the list of things I didn’t know I would be doing! This part was SO scary. We were literally “running” on the edge of the mountain and if you looked over your shoulder, all you saw was a steep drop. One thing I learned during this ultra experience is to never take my eyes off the ground. One wrong move and things could go downhill…literally.
PC: Bruno Long
The views as we made our way to the top were breathtaking. I tried not to pull out my phone too often because I was so stressed about making it to the aid stations before the cutoffs but there was one point (when I thought we were at the top) that I just had to take a photo. So beautiful.
Just to put it in perspective, it took us almost 8 hours to get to the top of the mountain which was a little more than halfway (32-33kms). That’s 8 straight hours of calf-burning climbing. There were so many moments where I’d reach the top of a steep section only to see another right in front of me. I had to stop and give myself pep talks quite a few times because I really felt like I wouldn’t make it. I was so beat – physically, mentally, emotionally. It was never-ending. Every time I thought we reached the top of the mountain, there was more. And more. And more. I was never so happy to see an aid station in my life (once we reached the top). I also never knew how excited I’d be to eat candy and chips in the middle of a race (I’ll talk more about food at the end).
It was finally time to head down the mountain, which I thought would be a piece of cake after spending so much time going up. Lol can you tell I know nothing about running in the mountains?? Running down such steep declines is HARD AF. Like, maybe even harder than climbing. I was *this close* to tripping and rolling my way down about a hundred times. The downhill is also where I noticed something was up with Emily. I was starting to move ahead of her (which is not normal for us) and I could tell in her face that something wasn’t right. She clipped a rock early on in the race and took a tumble. She didn’t say anything the whole way up but as soon as we started the descent, her knee just wasn’t cooperating. I felt nervous, guilty, concerned, and we both started to tear up when she told me she wasn’t going to continue. She was upset that she couldn’t be with me the whole way…and I was upset/felt like it was my fault that she was injured. I don’t know why. She flew out to BC to run my first ultra with me and then hurt herself…I just felt so horrible about it.
I think she dropped at about the 40km mark so I still had ways to go on my own. We met a girl named Allyson (@atrigirl72) on our way down so we were going to try and stick together. A volunteer (dressed as a lobster lol) told us we were 5km to the next aid station so I pulled out my phone to see how much time we had to get there…45 minutes. Shit. That is not a long time to run 5km on a trail (especially after already running about 40kms). I hustled and I’m pretty sure those were the fastest kilometres of my entire day. Thankfully the trail was pretty flat (yet muddy) so I was flying and when I finally saw one of the volunteers, I burst into tears and asked her if I made the cutoff. I went a little mental and told her everything that happened with Emily and how I was scared and blah blah blah…and she told me to calm down as I had made the cutoff by 15 minutes. She was so sweet and so concerned for me, got me everything I needed, and told me I only had about 14km to go. Allyson got to the aid station just minutes after me and we headed out to finish together.
The remaining kilometres were fairly easy in comparison to the rest of our day. Allyson had the very best stories and she helped take my mind off the fact that my legs were throbbing. She was seriously amazing and so, so funny. I truthfully don’t know if I would have made it to the end if it wasn’t for her. We chatted our way through the remainder of the trail and knew that once we hit the street, we’d be so close to the finish. It felt like the street never came but once we finally got there, a man yelled, “1.6 more kilometres and 9 minutes until cutoff!!!” I remember thinking, “How the F am I supposed to run that fast AT THIS POINT IN THE RACE?!” I gave Allyson a “we got this” and then ran as fast as I could to the finish line.
PC: Bruno Long
Turns out that man didn’t know that they changed the cutoff from 7:30 to 8…so we had more than 9 minutes. Hah! I finished and Allyson was just a minute behind me. We hugged, I saw Magi (the race director) and the only words that could come out of my mouth were “WHAT THE F$!# WAS THAT?” but I was laughing so hard and gave her the biggest hug because I couldn’t believe what I just did. I found Emily, who I couldn’t wait to see. Maybe she couldn’t run the entire race with me but knowing she was at the finish was the next best thing. We both hobbled to the car where she had a pizza waiting for me -> can a friend get any better than that? I don’t think so.
We ate the pizza while chatting in bed and then it was time to sleep since I had 22 more kilometres to run in the morning!
Sunday – Stage 3 – TEARS – 22km – 620m/2034ft ascent
Official time -> 3:56:30
This day was considered to be the “easy” day. My legs were beat right from the get go but that was expected. My only goal for this day (and the other two days) was to finish with a smile. This was the 22km celebration! The hard part was over. It was time to get things done. The course had some rollers but they felt like nothing in comparison to the epic heights we reached the day before.
I ran part of this day alone and was being passed by so many runners. It’s clear that most (if not all) of the people there were pretty experienced when it came to trails and back-to-back heavy volume running days. There were so many fearless runners just flying down hills – it was incredible to watch. I think about halfway through I heard some voices so I slowed my pace and there she was again – Allyson, my running angel! Her friend Trish signed up for the last day to keep her company so I stuck with them as we ran/walked/hiked/climbed to the finish. They were great and once again, did an amazing job at helping me take my focus off the actual running. We chatted a lot, cursed a lot, stuffed our faces at aid stations, thanked everyone we saw, attempted to jump for one of the photographers (failed), and weaved our way through the beautiful mountain.
PC: Bruno Long
We knew that once we hit the trail by the river, we were just moments away from the end. I picked up the pace once we got here because it was nice and flat, plus I could hear voices and was just ready to get to that finish line. When I was almost there, I could hear Hollie (@holholden) across the river yelling “GO CHRISTINA!! YOU GOT THIS!” It gave me that extra little boost to gun it across the bridge and straight through the finishing chute. Everyone who stuck around formed a line and gave me high fives as I made my way through – it was such a great feeling. I did it!! I FREAKING DID IT. I may have been one of the slowest runners out there but that doesn’t even matter. I accomplished something that felt impossible. There were so many moments of defeat and I overcame them, each and every time. I fought with everything I had and I am so damn proud of myself.
All that work for a beer glass…and I don’t even drink beer! 😉
Sorry this is getting really long but just a few more things…
What I ate: I carried Honey Stinger Chews, CLIF Shot Blocks and baby food in my hydration pack and ate those in between aid stations. At the stations, I’d make sure to eat something salty – usually corn chips. I’d also stuff my pockets with candy just in case – good decision because I ate it all. I drank water for the most part and refilled at every station. There were a couple of times (near the end of day 2 and 3) where I had Coke. The caffeine and sugar was just so good and much needed.
The people: I have never run a race where I wanted to hug every single volunteer. They had just as long of a day and always seemed to have smiles on their faces, ready to help with whatever the runners needed. They cheered for us, made jokes, gave us food, refilled our water, and sent us off with motivating words. They helped make this race happen and I am so thankful for each and every one of them.
Final thoughts: This race changed me. I learned a lot about myself along the way, the biggest and most important being that I can really do anything if I am determined enough. I think a lot of people doubted me, thought I was crazy, told me I would have a hard time since I train on the road…and for good reason. The Golden Ultra is no joke. My fitness level may not have been up to par with all of the other runners but hey, I pulled through and dragged my tired ass up/down/through the biggest mountain I’ve ever been on in my life.
Thank you to Emily who is always there pushing me to try new things, set new goals, and helping me to believe in myself. She does a pretty amazing job at convincing people they can do hard things. She may not have been there physically for part of the race but she is always running with me. I could hear her saying “You’ve freaking got this!” every step of the way.
Thank you to Magi and everyone else who made this race happen. You are seriously crazy and I’m pretty sure you almost killed me but this experience will be one that I never forget. Everything about it was so incredible – race organization, course markers (I never got lost which is a huge WIN for me), the views, volunteers, food, photographers – all of it. I’m so grateful that I was able to participate in such a rad race.
I think I may have caught the ultra running bug… I may never be fast out there but the vibes out on that mountain got me. It’s a whole different way of running and everything about it awesome. I’m pretty excited to see what’s next for me.
Thank you for reading and for all of your support during my training and over the weekend while I was racing. It meant SO much to me – you don’t even know. The messages and comments really helped to get me through some tough times out there. I’m so grateful and consider myself very, very lucky to have so many people cheering me on.