The seed to run Lost Soul Ultra was planted during my running of the 2010 SK Ultra. Dave, a running buddy, commented that if I wanted to have a real feeling of accomplishment, I should run the Lost Soul Ultra in Lethbridge. The idea of running LSU was put to rest until the winter of 2012 when I decided to enter my name in the registration lottery and as luck would have it, I won a spot in the Saturday 50k grouping.
I won’t bore you with my training woes and triumphs, but I will say that I was as prepared as I thought I could be.
6h00 Saturday morning, September 8th, saw almost 80 participants grouped together in the conference room of the Lethbridge Lodge for our pre-race meeting. I remember thinking that everyone else looked like “real” runners and no one seemed as nervous as me. Thank goodness for Jonathan Schmidt, who recognized me and came over to offer some words of advice, “maintain an easy pace, stay hydrated and fueled, and have fun.” Wise words; if only I would have been more precise in my execution!
The first few legs went well. I felt good and I was lulled into a false sense of confidence. The hills were not as terrifying as I had imagined, the weather was perfect and I was maintaining a fairly swift pace (for me anyways). I hit the first two aid stations well ahead of my estimated time and because I was feeling good, continued on with just a handheld bottle and a pack of energy gummies borrowed from my hydration pack (this would prove a costly mistake).
At the Pavan Aid station, things were still going well, body felt fine, hydration and fueling was in line with the race plan. Thirteen minutes after checking in, I checked out with fresh shoes and my hydration pack. This was the leg that concerned me the most, it was the longest and from what I could tell it was going to have some nasty ascents and descents. I was not overly anxious, as I was still well ahead of cut off times and my own imposed aid station times. The plan was still holding together until 4 kilometers in, I went to grab some food from my pack pockets and only found one energy bar. It had slipped my mind that I had borrowed from this pack earlier and I had forgotten to refill at the aid station. I began mentally beating myself up for such a rookie mistake, but soon realized there was nothing I could do about it, so determinedly I continued on.
8 kilometers in, halfway around this leg, my calves started cramping and my stomach was rumbling. I was caught by a few experienced runners, and through the sharing of stories, they found out I was out of food and starting to cramp. One of them gave me some salt tabs and the other shared some energy gel, but the damage was done and not long after they bounded off and I was left to plod along.
I was beginning to let the DNF thoughts enter my mind, “I have already done 30 kilometers in the most difficult race I have ever done, I have nothing to prove, I am happy with what I have done. My wife will be at the aid station, I’ll tell her I am done and we can drive back to the hotel.” However during the last few kilometers of this leg I passed a few runners who seemed to be doing worse than me and my resolve to finish was renewed.
Roughly half a kilometer from the aid station is a barbed wire fence, spread apart and wrapped. The cramping in my calves had worked its way up to my quads and hamstrings and going under or over this barbed wire seemed impossible. I decided to try and step over and straddle the wrap, but half way over my legs seized and I fell over to the other side. After a few choice words in French and some very deep cleansing breaths, I managed to push my carcass up and limp towards the aid station.
There was not a more beautiful sight than seeing my wife and the Pavan building! I explained to Carla my thoughts and without a moment’s hesitation she informed me that we did not come this far to give up. I guess this wasn’t just my adventure, it was hers too. We had invested too much family time for my training to give up so easily.
She gave me some pretzels and Cheezies to eat. I drank some McDonald’s salt packages, crunched some Tums and downed a few glasses of flat Coke and after 37 minutes felt well enough to soldier on. There is no doubt in mind that I would not have continued without the encouragement and support of my wife and the two fantastic lady volunteers who spent every minute of my stay in the aid station with me.
My memories of the last two legs are a little hazy. I remember being severely upset at having to climb the two steep hills in the middle of the next leg. I remember being pushed over by a friendly, but overzealous large dog and the weird look on his owners’ face when I asked them to help me up. I remember joking and laughing with the bikini clad beach volleyball players when I left Peenaquim aid station. I remember joining up with Rod and Michael, two 100 milers, with about 3ish kilometers remaining and listening to their stories from their last 34 hours.
With less than a kilometer remaining, we had to climb what seemed to be the steepest hill of them all. I methodically made my way up the ridge and when I crested the lip I could see the finish banner. I tried to break into a celebratory jog, but my legs would not cooperate, so I did what I had been doing for most of the last 14 kilometers and walked into the finish. I had completed the Lost Soul Ultra in just over 11 hours. And Dave was right; I did feel like I had accomplished something!
Chad Sawatzky is The North Face trail ambassador for Saskatchewan/Manitoba.