Our TSPYYC team was made up of two women and four men. Ailsa MacDonald, Adriana Wild, Justin Kurek, Ari Sarantis, Jon Bird and myself. We were being crewed by Kirsten Fleming, Shari MacDonald, Louise Taylor, Barry Green, and Doug Bird, and equipped with an RV and an SUV. This team was assembled by the Run Calgary group and run captain Ari and crew captain Kirsten saw to all organizing and logistics. Our run order was Justin, me, Ailsa, Adriana, Ari, then Jon. Ari set this up after carefully studying the map and understanding each member’s unique skill sets.
Now this blog post could be ridiculously long and detailed giving description of how well the other runner ran or how brilliant the crew was or even about the desert treasures Barry and Shari found along the way (see picture to the left) but instead I’ll shine a light on my perspective and how my day unfolded.
My day started just 10 km east of the Santa Monica Pier across from a gas station on Santa Monica Drive. Like clockwork Justin, our first runner arrived with a smile on his face running his first 10 km leg in 37 minutes. Strangely that smile never went away for the entirety of this race. I had not met Justin before this event but can say with confidence that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He arrived in either 5 or 6 place. After getting that sweaty high five I bolted east along the long line of RV’s giving high fives to 20 somethings that looked far cooler than me. The run was pretty uneventful except the company I kept. I ran the whole way with a nice young guy from Alaska. I would’ve missed my turn onto Sunset Blvd if he didn’t steer me straight. I remember him telling me that no one on his team has ever run more than a marathon. In my mind I said a little prayer for them thinking they were gonna have an ugly, ugly day but truth is we did not see them again. They went on to finishing well in front of us. Shows what I know! On Sunset Blvd after 10 km in 37 minutes 30 seconds I high fived Ailsa, hugged my team, loaded into our RV and once again headed east. It wouldn’t be another 3 hours and 20 minutes until I ran again so we all chatted, Instagrammed, ate and drank until our names were called again.
You know when you expect something to be easy and then it’s not, well that was my leg two experience. It was already getting stupidly hot out (keep in mind we’ve had an exceptionally cold winter in Alberta) but I had a flat road ahead of me… right? Nope! When reading the course description it showed a 1 out of 4 meaning the easiest grade. I guess that meant the footing and less orienteering. So I went out after the pass off with my 3:45 pace I found it really hard to hold the pace on the many hills that got between me and Ailsa. Halfway into the leg, I started getting very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to hold my 3:45 the whole way especially given that this leg was graded a bloody 1… what the hell would a 4 look like then! I was sooooo happy to see Ailsa and to stop running. My pace slipped a bit but still held a 3:55.
The energy with the crew was perfect. Shari and Louise were busy spinning positivity and treating our ailing bodies (they are Physiotherapists), Doug was keeping track and informing us of where we were and how other teams were doing, Barry was our local funny man, garbage collector, DJ, pint-puller and bike rider, that is until we got a flat. Our team was only complete with the greatest Race Director around Kirsten Fleming, being our coordinator, cheerleader, social media, and never once stopped smiling. I was trying to take in loads of food everytime I stepped into the RV including burgers, Stoked Oats, ham sandwiches, PBJ sandwiches, Honey Stingers, pepperoni sticks, chips……
Getting ready for leg three I was nervous thinking that it would feel a lot like the last leg. The two runs couldn’t have been any different. Leg three felt great. My energy was good, pace very solid and maybe with my old diesel engine taking so long to warm up these days, this stretch went by super quick. The Speed Project organizers drove next to me on this leg and asked if they could interview me. These guys were hilarious. They sprawled atop their limo filming me asking me questions about how we are doing. They were all dressed in wacky outfits and appeared to be having more fun than we were. After high fiving Ailsa, I looked at my Garmin, 38 minutes. Excellent, that felt like I can do that all day.
There is no other way to say this but I got lazy and cocky. Hanging out in the RV we were joking and chatting and as time went by I got away from my hydration strategy. Leg four started well , but I couldn’t help notice this incredible dryness in my mouth and general brain fog. At this point, we were Northeast of the plane graveyard and was running on dry sandy roads. Only 15 minutes in my pace I started slipping rapidly and my head throbbed. I would grab water from the SUV but I knew it was already too late. 35 minutes into the run I waved the SUV over and all I think I could say was Ailsa. Start. Early. They radioed ahead and I saw the RV slam on its breaks. It must have only been half a mile away but this distance seemed impossible. I think I was running more side to side than forward at this time. Damn that hurt!!! I haven’t hurt that bad in years but I think due to my laziness, and stupidity I deserved every little bit of it. I got back in the RV and was shivering like a leaf. I rehydrated properly and within 45 minutes was back to good. Thank god for gamers like Ailsa cuz she smashed it like an Idaho potato.
Our two vehicles needed to split up at this point. The RV needed to fill gas and dump its contents and the SUV looked after getting its runners to the start points. I was in the RV and the process of doing all this took us longer than we expected. Long story short we arrived at my start point for leg five 10 minutes late. I jumped out of the RV and sprinted over to high five Justin and took off like a bolt. This was now 10:30 pm and was the very first trail run which would also be unsupported. Because we were late I was determined to make up some time by givin’r on this one. I had my headlamp on and my phone in my hand. I uploaded Google Maps onto my phone to follow the line. I was climbing the first hill and having technical troubles with my phone. I’ve got this new Samsung phone with a bevelled edge and whenever my finger would slightly touch the side it would take me off the screen. I was losing my mind!!! All I wanted to do was gun this leg, not get lost and not lose my team even more time. I spent more time looking down at my phone rather than looking where I was stepping and BOOM! Next thing I know my right foot steps on something squishy and when I toed off it rolled away underfoot. Then came the sound of loud rattling. SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT! Did I just step on what I think I stepped on?! Fight or flight kicked in and I dropped it like it’s hot. Now I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have not ever been as scared shitless and at the same time had as much laser focus on where my feet were landing from that point forward. I now refused to look at my phone when moving. I would run 3:30’s, stop and look at my phone to recalibrate, then start running again. The trail led me back to the asphalt road and I was so happy to not be on the trail anymore. Finishing up my 12 km I high fived Ailsa and immediately walked straight towards Kirsten. I walked with her for a bit telling her what just went down. She agreed we would not tell the rest of the team of my rattled encounter until the night trail sections were complete so as to not freak out our runners. Physically and emotionally shaken I got in the RV. Others on our team noticed I wasn’t cool but I told them I was just mentally struggling. Sorry guys for lying.
Leg six was another unsupported trail section. I had to walk out a half a mile off the highway to get to the trail where Justin and I would intercept. When I got there I found deep soft sand along the entirety of the trail. This was gonna be slow going for sure. After getting tagged I took off with now laser focus looking for rattlers disguising themselves as sticks. This leg was by far my slowest as I found it incredibly hard to push the pace in that deep sand.
The rest of the night was spent in the RV supporting teammates and trying to catch some zz’s. Sadly with a moving vehicle, no sleep was had. Instead of torturing myself I got up and continued the eating brigade from the day prior knowing the best chance I had at running well tomorrow was to EAT ALL THINGS. The night had to be the hardest on the crew but looking around you wouldn’t know it.
With the sunrise came Justin and my next run; this time we will do things a bit different. Successfully getting through our six 10 km sections we would now break it down to 5 km repeats, which was news to my ears. Ari had set it up where we would break into groups of two, Justin and me, the two girls, Ari and Jon. Justin would run 5 km then I would, then I’d high five Justin again then back to me. This way we would go hard for 17-19 minutes then get a short break and repeat it. The break was super short but I found it to be an effective method giving us plenty of rest while we waited for the other two groups to cycle through before it was go time again. Justin and I both felt very happy with our times and efforts all four 5 km runs between 17:30 and 19:00. That Justin dude is a frickin stud! I kept waiting for him to crack but his giant engine never slowed. Look out 100k world, Kurek has just discovered his skill set.
It was our turn to run it out again but with a long steep climb approaching, we as a team decided to activate our 1-mile repeat strategy. Simply put, we all run one mile and repeat that until the climb was over. Our overall speed dramatically increased and it almost brought us closer as a team. Fuelling was an issue for some but we stressed the importance of eating immediately after running to enable digestion. We motored up the climb and soon found ourselves cruising down the descent. After a lengthy discussion, we decided to let the 1-mile repeat ride and do this all the bloody way to Vegas. This was a heavy commitment as our intensity levels would rise with less rest. It was around this time I started noticing the unassuming Adriana Wild had not slowed her pace throughout the day. Also what was obviously glaring in my face was a great respect for Ari and Jon’ s performance. The intensity both these athletes brought to every run coupled with their steadfast commitment to getting this shit done was so frickin cool. Most runners would complain a bit about their efforts, not these two.
We continued hammering through the smoking hot 94 F desert road all day one mile at a time. DJ Barry and spinmaster Kirsten would blast tunes from their SUV window in order to boost and fill our empty tanks. Ahead we saw an RV from the Australian team Hunter and we were very quickly catching them. You could almost smell their fear as we inched up little by little. As we turned right onto the main highway they were not far away now. This brought our team a whole new motivation to push even a bit harder. With one final climb ahead we figured we would surpass them right around the top of the climb before zooming down the backside. Our strongest climber Ailsa MacDonald sped effortlessly up the steep pitch so well she could almost make eye contact with the Australians. Ailsa was the one runner on the team nobody ever had to worry about. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing her run it is nothing less than a thing of beauty. The strength and mental structure that woman possesses is unmatched.
As we approached the top of the climb we were only 400-600 meters back. We lost sight of them for a brief moment as they ran down. It was now Justin’s turn to rip, as he got tagged I saw him pawing the ground like nothing before so completely motivated to reel them in. As we drove ahead to drop me off 1 mile up I kept looking around the windy bends to catch glimpse of Hunter…I never saw them. When Justin tagged me I smashed it. I so desperately wanted to see them around the next bend I dug in and only went harder. By the time I saw Ailsa with no sight of Team Hunter I felt defeated. I jumped into the RV and compared splits with Justin, we both bloody ran sub 3 min/km paces the whole way! If that’s what we ran what the hell paces did they drop!?!? The team cycled through and when it was my turn again I gunned it. Nearing the end of my mile I was rewarded a view down the valley with an unobstructed 3-mile check on where Team Hunter would be. Strangely, they were nowhere to be found. If we were running collectively as well as we were and only 600 meters away from them not long ago what the hell kind of pace were they running to gap us the way they did?!????
The remainder of the run was really quite a lot of fun. We all took our turns running, drank Red Bull and enjoyed the last few miles together as a team. Our last half mile we ran all together as a team approaching the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign. We finished in 6th place in a time of 39 hours 21 minutes. I am so damn proud of this team we put together. The strength I witnessed that weekend was truly inspiring and would be difficult to be summed up in words. I want to give a big thanks to Run Calgary for organizing this team and providing this opportunity for myself and the other athletes. The Speed Project organizers were fantastic and put on one incredible race weekend. Big shout out to Sharon and the kids for giving me yet again another hall pass to do super cool things in super cool places.