Taking the High Road

Five hours in and the sun is out in full force. Your mind is whirling, your muscles are firing and your fingers are like cocktail sausages. But for some reason it feels just right. You feel strangely free. Free from everyday life, reality, decisions and time. Which is wholeheartedly ironic really, considering you’re spending the day unquestioningly following brightly coloured flags, at the mercy of some masochist with a microphone. Oh, and there is a time cut off too. Regardless, you and your lifeline pack of snacks, gels, pills, and liquid sloshing on your back, feels more comforting and safe than the couch.

So, you keep on climbing, up, up, up, breathing loudly, treading lightly. Winding onwards and upwards some more. Admiring the view, but mainly the elevation you’ve gained. Checking your watch for time, but also for your heart rate – should it feel like it’s about to bust out of your ears? Pumping your arms for a final surge, before placing your hands on your quads, as you reluctantly break into a hike. You look back to check everyone else is doing the same. Surely no one is running up this, are they?

The top. What, for real? Not the top. The fake top. The elusive, ever-shifting skyline keeps on moving away from you, faster than your swelling quads can get you there. Head down, don’t look. Just keep on going and think about what you’re going to unashamedly devour at the Aid Station. Coke, this is certainly an excusable time for rotting your teeth.

Just as you’re dreaming about how much Coke, chips and Twizzlers you plan on consuming, the top appears. The actual top. No time for admiring the view. Although it’s spectacular, eating dirt it never feels so good, so you remind yourself to pick up your feet, as you change gears for the downhill. Quick steps, fast legs, taking chances whilst trying not to take it all out on your quads. There are a few more climbs to go before the Finish Line. But don’t get ahead of yourself, just focus on the now. It’s an ultra-marathon, not a sprint.

The type two, adrenaline-fueled sport of Ultra Running. A sport that has an abundance of history, charm, stories and legends. Whilst not a new sport, it’s fast gaining ground, and exposure, through the number of races and extensive media coverage. Whilst some races are bare bones and you have trouble locating the start line, others have made their way to Netflix. Some podiums give you a pot of jam, others a cheque. Regardless of the race, there is always a vast and diverse array of talent, experience, goals, sponsorship deals, fitness levels and body types. It’s a sport for everyone, and an increasing number of people are realizing it.

The Kootenays are no different, with an action-packed summer race schedule, multiplying as fast as runners’ mileage. Fernie is jumping on the bandwagon this coming July, with the inaugural Elk Valley Ultra 50km and Relay taking place on Saturday July 29, amongst a collection of popular and challenging races – July 15: Broken Goat 50km, Rossland BC; July 29: Elk Valley Ultra 50km, Fernie BC; August 19: Black Spur 100km, Kimberley BC; and on September 22-24: Golden Ultra, Golden BC.

Whether it’s the lure of something new, a personal challenge or a bet, the realization of a drive you didn’t know you possessed, or the cold craft beer at the finish line (yep, all the above races are supported by their local craft brewery), the best part is that everyone’s mountainous Ultra Running journey is their own.

And all it takes is a pair of trail runners to take the first step…