I just need a fucking win.
That was the attitude I went into Sinister 7 with. In November of 2021 I took a fall on a training run and exacerbated a chronic hip/SI joint issue. I went to physiotherapy and tried massage, stretching, yoga and albeit sporadic, I did do some physical therapy exercises. Nothing seemed to heal the pain. I switched from running to cycling and even took extended periods of time off to see if rest was what I needed. Nothing worked. My Physio eventually referred me to my Dr., who ordered an ultrasound which revealed a torn ligament in my SI joint as well as some mild arthritis and glute strain. He prescribed a cortisone shot to manage the pain. This was February of 2022.
I’ll admit I was hoping for a miracle cure. I did not get it. I got some relief and was able to continue running. Eventually, it felt like the pain moved from the joint and was now more soft tissue issues. Back to physio, some dry needling and a relentless commitment to my physical therapy started to show some improvement, though I always knew it was there.
I signed up for an early season 50km, Diez Vista on the west coast to see how my glute/SI would hold up. I wanted to see before committing to any more races. Diez Vista was cold and wet but went incredibly well. My injury actually seemed to improve post-race. Go figure.
Michelle and I had already secured accommodations for Sinister 7 weekend in Crowsnest Pass knowing that if I couldn’t run we would volunteer. So when we started to see bibs come up for sale and I was feeling much better we made the plunge.
Michelle picked up a 50km bib and I snagged a Sinister 7 50 mile bib. Boom! We’re back baby! At least I hope so. I’m not sure I realized how deflating not being able to race for a year really was. I briefly debated tackling the hundred miler again but knew the smart thing to do was to do the 50 miler and work hard for a successful race.
I hired a coach, committed to my physical therapy routine and started to be a little more mindful of what I ate. Training was going well. I hit a few PB’s for the fastest 5km and 10km. Add a little elevation now that we have a place in the mountains and I was feeling pretty stoked come race day.
Sinister will always hold a special place in my heart. It was where I completed my first 100 miler and also the course that has taught me the most lessons on my 3 previous visits. The 50 mile course covers half of leg 4, all of legs 5, 6, and 7. It would be fun to run these legs in the light of day instead of overnight on tired legs as I did in the 100 miler.
My goal at the start line was to be able to run strong without the injury hampering my efforts and to finish under 15 hours. After all if I am coming back for the hundred, which I need to finish under 30 hours, then I had better be able to do the 50 miles under 15 hours. The start line was full of my Edmonton run community friends and I was looking forward to starting with my friend Tania who had also run the Diez Vista race with me.
Sinister 7 50 mile
I also was well-equipped to document my journey. I had my iPhone on me, my new GoPro Hero 11 as well as my Insta 360 camera. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Stay tuned for the video to follow. ;0)
The gun went and we started up the hill to connect with Leg 4. About a kilometer in we hit the single track and the subsequent inevitable race start bottleneck. I have to admit it felt a little odd doing the “death march” so early in a race. The terrain soon opened up to the double-wide road and the runnable section started to see the racers spread out a bit. I ended up running with a guy who recognized me from my YouTube videos and learned a little of his story (I’ll leave it out as it is not my story to tell.) The camaraderie on the trail is always one of my favorite parts of a race. Michelle likes to tease me about all the friends I collect on the trail.
“Hi I’m Mike. Will you be my friend?”
The good news is that almost all trail runners will answer an enthusiastic “yes” to that request.
The beginning of our race was the last 12km of Leg 4. Highly runnable and relatively flat. It was fun to reminisce about the three other times I had raced that leg. I usually come into TA 4 / 5 at sundown and make it a challenge to see if I can finish the leg before I needed a headlamp to see. Today this would not be the case, as I would be coming into the transition area around noon.
Leg 4 elapsed time: 1:36:55.3
I finished leg 4 feeling incredibly fresh and did a quick refuel on bananas, watermelon, orange and finally took some banana bread to go. I had been using a 500ml Soloman filter flask for hydration so far, filling from the creek on the way. I did not need to refill my 2 liter bladder and headed out quickly on Leg 5. This would be the first time I would see leg 5 in the light of day. I was really excited. Leg 5 is 27 km and the first 8km are relatively flat. At least that is what I remembered. Turns out the flat is a little more inclined than I realized in the dark. Still it was mostly runnable at the start.
When we turned off the road to the campground I knew we would start to climb a bit so took out my poles. It was at that moment I realized that I actually had packed Michelles poles in my quiver. They are 10cm shorter than mine. Oops! All I could think of was the fact that meant she now had poles that were 10cm too long for her. I thought “Oh shit, she is not going to be pleased!” Turns out I was wrong. While she noticed they seemed long she did not make the connection to me accidentally switching poles. I can assure you those poles will soon be color coded!
Leg 5 can be extremely wet and muddy as much of it follows a quad track in the bush. It was nice to be able to see it in the daylight this year and be able to navigate around some of the knee-deep mud bogs that I had a hard time avoiding in the dark. I was moving well and at some point realized that I had not even noticed my SI as an issue! Great news!
I came into TA 5 / 6 feeling really strong and much to my surprise saw Tania still at the TA. Friends Janelle and Kirk were there crewing her and Janelle jumped into action to assist me as Tania went out. A quick refill of the bladder and flask along with some more fruit and banana bread. I sat in Janelle’s chair while she got my drop bag and I changed socks. Soon Janelle started to shoo me out of the TA. Her husband Kirk, not a runner, started to tease her about giving me a break. We both assured him that it was indeed time to kick me back out onto the course.
Leg 5 elapsed time: 4:36:11.6
Leg 6 is one of the hardest on course with 31.9km and 1400 meters of elevation. Most of that elevation gain is in a 4-5km section. Leg 6 is where I blew up twice on my 100 milers. It is arguably the most scenic leg of the course and the views from the top are mind-blowing. I get emotional just thinking about it. The top of leg 6 is special to me. The first year that was when I knew I would not finish on time. I called Michelle from the top in tears, telling her “New plan. There is no way I will make 30 hours with my trashed feet. I just need you to get me out on Leg 7 before the cutoff because I did not come here to run 93 miles.”
Michelle and I have hiked the leg together since then, and in 2021 it was where I bonked hard and missed the TA 6/7 cutoff time. I love/hate that leg. Mostly I love it. This year I got to run it with my new friend Harold from Saskatchewan. Harold and I paced pretty well together and he had never done the leg. I think he was pretty in awe of the climb. We traded leads as we went and close to the top we were passed by the first 100 mile relay runner. Unbelievable! Shortly after the lead runner passed us, number 2 and 3 came racing by as well.
We paused at the top to rest and to take in the views. Then we started the gnarly descent down the other side of leg three. Harold was a mountain goat going down and I struggled to keep up. I have always said “I suck on the technical descents.” This time I was mindful to change that inner dialogue. “You are much better on the technical descents this year.” was a much more useful mantra.
The inner dialogue can easily run away on you in an ultra.
“You’re not bad Mike you just need to be a little more courageous with your footing.”
“What the fuck are you talking about Mike, you are one of the most courageous mother fuckers I know. Now get moving!”
Harold had said that he hoped to be 6 hours on leg 6. It is a goal that I think I was afraid to set for myself given the struggles I’ve had on leg 6 in the past. I started doing the math. If I could finish leg 6 in 6 hours then a 14 hour finish was possible. Fuck yeah! Let’s do this mother fucker! You’re so much stronger this year. You are more experienced and you know this course. Let’s go!!
Ah shit, now I had to push for a 14 hour finish. I remembered my friend Priscilla who had just come in 8th female at western states and asked myself what she would do. “She’d race this and run as hard as she could.”
Fine! I’ll push. When I left checkpoint 6b after the big descent, I was quickly reminded of the subsequent big climb. Not out of the woods yet.
“Move with intention, Mike. Move with intention.”
“It doesn’t have to be fast. It just has to be consistent.”
I stopped thinking about time and just focused on moving as quickly as I could. The last section before CP6c was a flurry of activity with quadders racing the dirt road we were running. It was not pleasant eating all that dust but what can you do. I knew Michelle would be finished her race and would head to TA 6/7 to crew me out on the last leg. Just then my phone went off. A text from Michelle asking where I was and letting me know she was at the TA. I waited until I hit CP6c before responding. 6C is 7.5km from the TA so I knew I would be about an hour in.
Doing the math in my head again I realized that would out me at TA 6/7 about 10:30pm which would then give me about 2 hours to finish leg 7 to hit that 14-hour mark.
Leg 6 elapsed time: 6:03:10.2
Slightly slower than I had hoped but better than expected. I came in just after 10:30pm. Michelle changed out my socks, cleaned my feet and took my camera as it was now dark. I added my waist lamp to the mix so I could see the trail on leg 7 easier. It was about 10:45 pm when I left. Not the best transition ever but I was moving well. I gave Michelle a kiss and said I will see you in two hours at the finish line. Not daring to hope for a faster time. Leg 7 is the easiest leg on course but that doesn’t make it easy. It is only 11 km but there is still a lot of climbing to do. Then the technical descent in the dark on dusty, slippery rock. I ran with a crew from Grande Priarie for a bit and pushed past them telling them I wanted to crack 14 hours and needed to hustle.
I thought I had dropped them but eventually Tom from Grande Prairie caught me again and passed my as we left the CP7a. We raced the last 6 km to the finish line and I was elated to come in feeling strong whooping and making Michelle and I’s trademark “KawKaw!!” which we use to ID each other. She replied and I raced across the finish line. I knew it was going to be close to that 14-hour mark. My watch was not accurate as I forgot to start it right at the start line.
I took my finisher’s medal and beer, gave Michelle a kiss and went to sit down. Our friend David came up to report my official time….
Damn! My mind started jumping to all the places on the course where I could have shaved off 3 ½ minutes. Not that it mattered. Holy shit did that feel good to crush my 15-hour goal and still feel incredibly strong.
2024 hundred miler… here we come!