An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: Run Forrest, run..!

So last weekend saw some fantastic weather – warm (actually, hot!) sunny and dry. This tends to drive visitors up to Whistler in their droves to relax, soak up the patios, beaches by the lakes and other thrills laid on by the many activity businesses. So what was I going to do on this glorious hot and balmy Saturday – that’s right, run 80kms from Squamish up to Whistler through trails, paths and just a tad too much tarmac. Awesome!

Actually, I will give this run centre stage in this article as it was an awesome day and all in the name of a great cause – raising funds to fight kid’s cancer. It was billed as a relay race and in fact there were to be three runs in all, across Canada. This one just happened to be in our beautiful part of the world. There were a number of teams that had signed on to raise as much money as possible and take it in turns to run one or even a few legs of this staged race. I was to call into question several times my decision to run every leg of the full 80 km solo – Was this really necessary?!

At the traditional starting line speech and obligatory well wishes, we heard about one or two local kid’s stories and their suffering and amazing resilience and outlook on life – A true inspiration to those teary eyed amongst us. So after a few rousing speeches, a little caffeine and a few stretches, we were off at 7.30 am (for anyone not acquainted with bigger running events, to allow time to truly wake the internal mechanics, if you get my drift, consume a decent carbohydrate breakfast for some fuel and allow it to digest properly…and check those internal mechanics once gain! This means realistically being up a good couple of hours before!).

Fortunately at this time of the day, it was quite a pleasant running temperature, but as the forecast was to reach somewhere close on 30 C, this was a time to revel in these easy conditions as we were ‘escorted’ by various entourages from the press, RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and event organises, around the starting town of Squamish.

In preparation for this day I had logged hundreds of miles in the last couple of months, practised numerous days of back to back runs of over 30kms at a time and tried out various different foods, gels and drinks that I thought I could consume along the way and that my guts wouldn’t ‘reject’ in my efforts to sustain my levels of electrolytes, glycogen and strength in what would be a ‘full day’s work’. For the day, I had prepped my support team (my dutiful wife) and had planned to meet her and a couple of friends along the route with various additional food and drinks I had prepared. You never quite know how a run of this length is going to turn out. Ask any ultra runner and their stories will be littered with tales of stomach cramps, injuries, dehydration and an inability to consume sufficient calories and ‘carbs’ to sustain their run. I was oddly confident!

The day certainly gradually got hotter. The terrain gradually got steeper and rockier and I gradually got more and more tired (not surprising when you consider that on this day I probably burnt around 5-6000 calories, probably only managed to consume around 2-2500 calories and drank nearly 8 litres or more as I continued to sweat!), but the scenery just got better and better. Unfortunately I missed the bear that was supposedly on the trail somewhere around the 60km point having passed this spot already near the local bungee jump. Somehow I don’t think it was planning on jumping. That would certainly have to be some piece or rope! Evidently a few runners were held up briefly until it decided to saunter off elsewhere…as they do eventually too.

The mix of gels and liquid squelching around in my stomach made running hard at times and certainly suppressed my appetite and ability to eat at times, which certainly didn’t help. However, my lowest point (there were a couple!), was having reached the aid station at what I was led to believe was the 70km point. After all, when you reach a nice shaded tent that clearly has 70KM written all over it, and even then, when asking a few times “Is this really 70kms I’ve now ran? Is there honestly only 10kms left?” And “are you sure?” just to be told “Yes, there’s just 10kms to go”, you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking there was only 10kms left. Believe me, after some 6.5 -7 hours out on the trails, your mind does go a little blank occasionally (it’s easier to not think if you can help it) and I was willing to be told anything.

So, after perking up ‘knowing’ I only had 10kms left to run, I found a little ‘pep’ in my step. I felt good and was feeling stronger with every stride and so I dug deep and powered on. I was then just a tad distraught when I was met by my friends some 8 or 9 kms later to be told to “keep going, you’ve only got 10 or 11kms left!” Mind tricks are the absolute pits. I was destroyed, spent, gone. Fortunately one of my friends had offered to run in this last section with me and he helped take my mind off some of the pain, even if he did make me realise just how ‘fresh’ he was compared to each of my lumbering strides.

The long and the short of this is that we all made it. I ran I over the finishing line to a huge cheers and support, as I had done at every single aid station along the way from both volunteer support crew and other teams. Oddly enough I felt physically good and strong once I’d agreed to make good on my ‘pact’ with the devil and temporarily cease exercising once across the line. Definitely a few pounds lighter no doubt and certainly a few muscles and tendons were at breaking point, but the feeling of elation can mask a million pain receptors.

Other teams ran in gradually and everyone one of them was truly happy to have finished what they set out to do – Test themselves and raise a lot of money. Evidently, although I think it’s fair to say that there were perhaps less teams participating that the event organisers would have liked, as a small collective, we raised more per capita than anyone else. We should feel proud in our efforts and hope that it can all now be put to good use and make others less fortunate a little more comfortable.

Would we do it gain? You bet we would. Did I get the ultra running bug and consider running these distances and further, what do you think?