Sole Running: Tales from the Trails: The Winter Ultra Adventure
by Bob Nicol
What does it take to run a winter ultra?…….Well when I have it figured out I will let you all know, because honestly I am still working on it myself.
There are so many variables to consider, from trail conditions, to temperatures, snowstorms, wind chill, snow depth, is there ice to deal with, do I have to run on a frozen water way (is it frozen enough to hold me?)………..it is an endless coordination nightmare. If you get even one thing wrong it can mean life and death or at the very least you could become a popsicle, mmmmm, a cherry popsicle would be kind of tasty right now.
I am currently getting ready to run 130km unsupported over the open Manitoba prairies in just over a week’s time, the event is called Actif Epica. Yes I have done this before, last year with a brutal finishing time of just over 21 hours in fact, but the conditions have sooooo changed from last year. For example we have about 2 feet of extra snow to contend with, the temps have been absolutely frigid this year and the wind…..that has been just unpredictable. Now I have also learned so much about what is needed from the race last year but you just can’t depend on it. Running the winter ultra is a challenge of not only endurance but perseverance and shear will, you have to be ready for anything, you cannot depend on anyone but yourself and that is a challenge that I love to partake in.
This is what you could see for miles………..
……..or this or nothing at all
Selecting the right gear at the start of the day is one thing, but you also have to prepare for what might happen 6 hours, 12 hours or 20 hours down the road as well. Carrying extra gear is not an option it is mandatory, from extra dry clothing, to emergency conditions gear, to your food and fluid intake (while keeping it from freezing), you have to carry it all and be prepared for the unknown. Last year I hoofed 2 packs with me for 130 kms, weighing a mere 20 to 25 lbs. Doesn’t sound like much but when you are carrying that on your back for 21 hours through snow drifts, up and down hills, through waist high snow you definitely notice it. Footwear is also a very important decision, as most of you know I am a barefoot runner 90 percent of the time, unfortunately running barefoot in the winter is usually not a possibility and definitely not for those distances….I do so like my feet. Unlike most runners, who utilize a winter running shoe with all types of fancy ice gripping devices, I am a bit more of a naturalist. I use a pair of homemade Native American mukluks that my wife custom made for me. They consist of two layers of buckskin and nothing else. I feel if the original settlers of this great land can run the prairies like that, so can I.
Challenging myself in new and interesting ways is what I like to do, call me a masochist or a ………… The winter ultra is a true test of the human spirit and that is a big reason why I was drawn to it. Running to me is a spiritual thing; I cannot explain it any other way other than it allows me to fall into a safe place, my garden of peace if you will. It allows me to push myself to and beyond my comfort zone, the limits of my willpower and reserves to see what my body, mind and soul can endure.
Now these are not for everyone, that is for sure, last year we had 13 runners total start and only 8 finished (I was one of them) plus the cyclists (I believe there was another 30 of them). This year we are expecting 20 runners and 40 cyclists and honestly if the conditions are anything like they have been I would expect 10 running finishers maximum. Saying this course can be brutal is an understatement, it all depends what Mother Nature decides to throw at us throughout the day and night that will tell the story. I will push through until I can push no more and my expectations…. is that it will be the finish line where the two major rivers meet in Downtown Winnipeg. The Forks, the historical gathering spot of one of the original and true settlers of this great country of ours, the Native American tribes of the plains. I know I will be looking to the land and sky for guidance throughout my journey. What better way to pay tribute to them then cross the finish line in this very spiritual place wearing the traditional footwear of the people that stood and gathered together here for hundreds of years before me.
……….To Be Continued (Next Month’s Post Will Be The Journey)
Bob is a barefoot runner from Canada who has been lucky enough to discover the passion of running. From running 5 km around his neighborhood with his faithful husky Hazel to running 100 mile Ultra-marathons over nasty terrain, Bob runs with a smile and an encouraging spirit. You can also follow his ramblings at Canadian Running Magazine Online (http://runningmagazine.ca/blogs/bare-my-soles/ ) and his personal blog, http://winnipegbarefootrunners.blogspot.ca/.
Run Strong, Run Hard, Run Happy and Run Free……………….