Monday, October 29, 2007

Never Underestimate the power of a Princess.

Some events have happened over the last few days in my family that made me reflect on how we all have inner strength and how we can choose to harness it and use it to accomplish things, to fight even when it seems so incredibly hard or unfair or we can choose to - for whatever the reason - not, sometimes with devastating results. This time it was okay...


So in the aftermath I thought about all the women I know and how far we have all come and evolved over the last few years as people and athletes. How at one point or another we have all reached deep within our selves to find strength whether to finish a race, a class, face a medical issue, a sudden family loss, break up or the end of a freindship.


It seemed like the right time to talk about Stormy and a friend who's inner strength and determination truly amaze me. Cynthia - aka Princess - is a lady that I met while training for my 2nd marathon. We run, train and co-coach half marathons together and co-founded the How Bad Can it be club.

For those that know Cynthia - she is a princess - she will be the first to admit it. She must color coordinate (but only in shades of black or grey), hates getting her shoes dirty, does not like dirt, will run for 4 hours but refuses to walk more than a block for her breakfast, only stays in Boutique hotels, and will run into the middle of a busy road rather than straight through a mud puddle. I have been known often to yell at her - Suck it up princess! But don't ever underestimate her - she is a fierce competitor, loyal friend and is incredibly giving. She was the one that tagged the phrase: " It is all a big whatever. Really, how bad can it be?" I always tell everyone if Miss C says that phrase just turn around and jog home - unless you are prepared for one heck of an adventure.


How bad can it be? - started getting tossed around a year ago when Miss C started talking about the "Double". The double is an award that you win if you ride the "Test of Metal, Yeah" 65km Mountian Bike race and then run "Stormy Ultramarathon" along the same route a few months . There has only been one woman to successfully complete both - a friend of ours, Rachel. Cynthia heard about this and went I can do that - really how bad can it be? Cynthia is a mother of 2 in her 40's with a full-time executive job. She started canvassing and working on us to do the Ultra with her. Vicki - our local mountain woman and 20 something friend took the bait right away - the rest of us sat back and nodded but none committed. I even went so far as to register in a Half-ironman as a way to get out of it - a fat load of good that did me...


Her first task was the mountain bike race, Cynthia needed to actually successfully register as the race sells out in a matter of hours. So there was a good chance that we would all be off the hook. But nope Cynthia stayed up the night before registration, logged on at midnight and got one of the coveted spots. That was it Cynthia and Vic were doing Stormy, but wait it would not be 65km they lengthened the route to 80km . The race was changing so they couuld have a 50 miler and a 100 miler. No way in hell was I running 80km - Cynthia's response - Really How bad can it be? But Istood strong - no! You and Vic have a great time.


Cynthia completed Test of Metal and her and Vic started training for Stormy in earnest. I happily continued training for my little race thinking I had dodged a bullet. But wait there is a relay option - you could put in a relay team. Again I laughed and said we will see fully intending NOT to put in a team. I heard about Stormy it was a brutal trail race - brutal trails, no bathrooms, aid stations few & far apart, people collapsing in the middle of nowhere because they did not have enough nutrition, and OMG bears - I DON'T LIKE BEARS-but darn it I must be honest my curiosity was tweaked and I hate being left out. NO - definately not.


So I gathered the troops and was able to convince 6 other ladies into forming Team Focawee. We would each run a portion of the race beside the girls for moral support and ensure they finished and Cynthia won the double. As usual I naively thought that 7 legs -80 km - 10"ish" km each right - WRONG. After looking at all the legs and distances and knowing how far the other ladies usually ran I ended up taking 9 mile hill - 23 km of fun. Besides 9 mile hill it was also the cutoff leg - the girls had to be through there by 3:30 or they would be pulled of the course and unlike my race they would not be allowed to say whatever and keep going - it was a safety issue. Yep I would be picking them up around 47 km- 6 or so hours in to their race - good times. Really How Bad could it be?


We had a team - now to train. I went with the girls to run my portion as a training run. 9 mile hill was definately a hill but this is not so bad. We got to the top, and onto flatter trails yes I just needed to watch out for rocks, roots and such. It was quite nice and then we hit the plunge- "Power House Plunge" or what I refer to as 40 minutes of pure hell - double black-diamond trails switchback on a steep downhill. This is where the term I run like a girl came out - I was awful - worse than awful but what was amazing was how the girls flew down the trail. I was in awe - still am. That day took us 5 hours to complete the 23 km plus the hike in and out (about 10km). It was good though because it made me realize the enormity of the task my 2 friends were going to do and how they really would need us plus Cynthia had ridden this course and at times had to carry the bike on it -shoot this woman was strong. It also made me realize that we all needed to invest in trail shoes, more hills and we had all better go and learn our portions. So without scaring the girls so they would drop out I made some suggestions.

The day of the race was epic! The girls had 12 hours to finish 80km in the backwoods. The relay team had their marching orders - stay with them on your leg, try to keep them on pace but in the end let them set it, make sure they eat and drink and last but not least keep them moving forward - NO STOPPING they must always move forward. I need them by 11:00am - 11:30 the latest, I need 4 hours. I was not there for the start of the first 3 legs but by all reports besides a minor fall by Cynthia they were going strong - almost too strong. They were ahead of schedule. Leg 4 seemed to go a lot slower - this was the one leg they had not run before and apparently it was nasty. We were there at the exchange to wait for them. When they got there they looked strong but you could tell they were tiring. We gave the girls hugs and we yelled we love you and watched them go. Then we zipped off to my exchange point to wait.

Cynthia's husband and the rest of our friends - the Shaunettes and others showed up. Everyone knew this was the do or die leg. They all kept asking me how are they doing - I was like great but they need to be here soon. Rick - Cynthia's husband pulled me aside and said really how is it? I was like Cynthia has gone down once, small cut on her knee. He was like no - time wise I was like they are making it interesting I wanted 4 hours now I have less. Then all of the sudden they were there and it was time - get their socks on- grab some potatoes - restock thier water and other fluids - grab more gels and such okay we really have to go. 3hours and 40 minutes - shoot this was going to be tight.

Off we went and it was the most amazing time I have spent with them. Those girls never stopped - Vicki suggested a quick "sit-down" at one point but I grabbed her arm and quietly talk to her till the moment passed. I kept a brisk pace and made sure I had one in front and one in back at all times. Keeping an eye on my watch and both of them. I quickly realized that I was not going to use the word run - they were not happy with that word right now. I would use the word shuffle alot - the rules was flat was downhill and we run all downhills but at this point the girls were having none of it so we ran when they wanted to run and briskly walked the other times. Ten and ones were used now as a way for me to monitor what they were eating and drinking. The race organizer said no matter what make sure they eat. If they get sick does not matter make sure they eat again as soon as possible. Thankfully they did not get sick - but I had to coax them a lot to eat.

My favourite moment was when Vicki says to me probably 5km into 9 mile hills - 'This is Stupid" - I was like a little late for that now hon. Cynthia just smirked and kept moving forward. During this whole time CYnthia just had this look of pure determination - she never stopped moving and did not even try to negotiate for a quick "sit" down. She just kept moving forward. Finally at the top we started to run the pace was actually not too bad considering the girls had been out there for over 7 hours and again Cynthia led the group for the most part. She was just consistent and I let her set the pace my goal get us to the Plunge as fast as possible so the girls could do their thing. I figured if we got there with 30 minutes they would be okay. As the trail got more technical I fell back but not as far back as usual.

I came around the corner as they were going into the plunge the girls took off but then I came around the next corner and I could see them ahead stopped. WHAT ARE YOU DOING - RUN!!! You have 30 Minutes GO!!! Vic called back we want to make sure you are okay - god I love them - I yelled back I will be fine - 30 minutes to cut-off GO!!!! So off they took and I quickly lost sight of them. I also knew that I had to move it now to because I did not want them to stop at the bottom. Adrenaline is wonderful - I booked it - at least for me - down the trail and just chanted the whole way down - do NOT fall - not today. I came out at the base of the trail and looked at my watch 7 minutes to cutoff - the girls were no where to be seen so I knew they had made it but I also knew they would probably all be standing their waiting for me to finish so the pressure was still on. Just over a 1km uphill to the exchange point - so I started running as hard as I could and came around the corner screaming go!!!! Three minutes to cut-off go!!! But cripes Cynthia and Vic are so darn stubborn they stood there and refused to leave till I got there and then Cynthia grabbed my hand and said come with. You have to do the last leg but I was spent and told her honey June will get you there go - I will be at the finish line - see you in a couple of hours - you are amazing - you did it you won the double!!! I quickly grabbed June and said they are tired but spirits are good - don't let them stop we will see you at the finish!

I watched them leave and then exactly 2 minutes later regretted not going. Everyone else was like they will be okay June is with them you got them here. Still I was like please please keep them safe and get them to the finish. I knew how tired those girls were - cripes I had only done 23 km and was exhausted I could not fathom how they kept going- it was amazing. So we loaded up all the crew and headed for the finish line to wait. As soon as I got there I grabbed my chair and went and sat at the entrance to the last 100 metres and just stared. I was willing them to get here and get here safely. As the clock got closer to the mark I started walking along the path towards the trail head and all the other girls on the team joined me. Then we started calling out their names - I was hoping maybe they would hear us calling them and know they were almost done.

To see the three of them come out of the trail was amazing - it took everything I had not to cry. They had done it! The team surrounded them and we all ran to the finish line - I am sure it was a spectacle to see. The picture on the blog is all of us at the finish line. We then opened champagne and got our medals. The best was watching the awards and hearing that Cynthia had wonthe double for 2007! She had done it - she was not the fastest or the youngest but she had finished the race and won the double!

Afterwards I talked to June about her leg - and asked her what it was like. - She looked at me and said that darn Cynthia - remember she said it was a nice easy switchback - how bad could it be? I was like yes- well at one point I am going down this trail and I turn to the side and see a guy rappelling beside me! INSANE - I am so glad I did not go on the last leg but really June got through How bad can it be?

Cynthia may be our princess but as the title says NEVER underestimate the power of a Princess. Her strength amazes me and I count myself lucky to be her friend.


Stay strong.
Shaun