August 12, 2007

Stage Two, The Connector and Juan De Fuca (55km)

So I ended up having to wait twenty minutes for the Gordon River water taxi. During which time I managed to down some vitamin I (Ibuprofen) and stretch my legs for five minutes. By the time I reached the opposite side of the water, and was greeted by Carlos and Roxy I was feeling 100% better than an hour earlier, buoyed onwards by the knowledge that I had at least made my only cut-off for my run. No matter what occurred after this point in time, I was sure I would at least crawl to the 'finish line'.

I had to 'check out' of the West Coast Trail and had a brief conversation with the receptionist. She asked my running time and after telling her it was 12h20m she congratulated me on being the fastest runner to have ever done the trail! I quickly corrected her, for I know at least two people who have completed it in under 10 hours, and assured her I would try to have them contact the trail office to update their information. I then asked about the runner from the previous day,

“I don’t know, maybe you ran past him because we still have not seen the guy here.”

She then went into detail about what a jerk the guy had been, and I immediately went about trying to convince her of what great people runners usually are. The last thing I wanted was for any future runners to be banned from this trail! She was also the very first person, outside of close friends, who I told of my intentions to continue onwards and attempt the Juan De Fuca trail as well.

“Really, wow, well be sure to call us when you are done and let us know how it went!”

“I will, thanks so much, you beautiful lady you, great area here, wonderful people, amazing landscape…did I mention how nice runners usually are?”

With that I was off and running the road connecting the two trails. Carlos would drive ahead a few hundred meters and wait for me to catch up. I initially started running with Roxy. I attached her leash to my backpack and was hoping she would help tow me along, instead she was dead weight, having run for a few hours with Carlos already that day. I ended up tucking her back in the vehicle after just a few minutes…I was 77km in and not even my dog would join me!!

About half way along the eight kilometer stretch of road from Gordon River to Botanical Beach I noticed a convenience store. Carlos was just up ahead and I threw my arms in the air like a crazed maniac in the hopes that he would see me…I wasn’t passing up on this one. I ducked inside and grabbed a half liter of chocolate milk! They also had a microwave which allowed me to heat up some of the quinoa I was packing in my drop bags. It was a beautiful afternoon and I really enjoyed the ten minute break in the sunshine.

Once the food was gone I was back to running the road again. It started to climb a few decent grades and I was forced into a fast hike within minutes. As I was approaching the Botanical Beach Trail Head, where the North end of the Juan De Fuca begins, I was left wondering why Carlos had stopped in my vehicle, in the middle of the road, with the reverse lights on? Less than a minute later my curiosity was answered as I nearly ran smack dab into a black bear!

The bear was very relaxed and hardly took notice of me at all, but I was glad to have a few hundred pounds of steal as a barrier between the bear and I. After a short video, I was into the parking area and my official transition point. Carlos unloaded my bins while I ran to the outhouse to change my clothes and reapply Bodyglide to every square inch of my body!

After topping up my bladder with Carbo-Pro, filling my backpack with food supplies and dropping Nuun tablets into my handheld bottles I was off.

A week out, I had been hoping to make it onto the JDF for 6:30pm. I officially started the trail at 6:27pm and was honestly in shock at how good I was feeling! The break between the trails, the lack of now having a cut off time to make and the social interactions with Carlos and some other people all helped to bring me back into a solid mental state, which immediately transcended into my running. I started at a pace that I had not been able to sustain all day. It lasted for all of a kilometer, until the climbing and descending began.

My goal for the JDF was to knock down as many kms as possible before nightfall, hopefully 20k or more. I had just under three hours to do so and put in as solid an effort as I could. After the first hour or so the adrenaline had worn off and I was once again back to feeling really spent and just trying to tough it out as best I could. My right knee was starting to flare up and it kept me on a steady intake of I.B. for the rest of the run. The soles of my feet were also getting pretty damn tired and letting it be known that they were well past their comfort range. On top of that my stomach was starting to scream at me as it was in desperate need of a full meal. The food that I was carrying would be the bare minimum to get me through the night.

As I was approaching about 15km, I crossed a bridge and had to skirt around a gentleman who was purifying water from the river. He took notice of my small running pack and started asking questions. Before long he had gotten it all out of me, (yeah, I hate talking, it was sooo tough for him to pry it out of me right!) and he looked at me in shock,

“When you pass through the campground, would you do me a favour please?”

“Sure, I think?”

“Would you tell my daughter what you have done so far today?”

“Umm, really? I mean, yeah if you think she would like to know about it, I’ll find her.”

“Thanks, she’s been having a bit of a rough day, I think this might help her out.”

As I passed through the campground I noticed a young girl of about ten and a woman about the same age as the gentleman on the bridge.

“Is that your father down on the bridge?”

“Pardon me?”

“Sorry, your father, is he purifying water? He asked me to come and tell you what I was doing out here today.”

“Yeah, that’s my Dad…”

“Well he just wanted me to tell you that I started running about eighteen hours ago back in Pachena Bay at the start of the West Coast Trail, and I’m trying to make it to the end of this trail in under 24 hours…if I am successful I will be the first person to have done so”

They were obviously in shock and after a second of silence they just erupted in amazement and appreciation for what I was attempting.

The Mother broke out with, “That’s incredible, you deserve a hug!”

All I could say was, “Honestly lady, I would LOVE a hug right now!”

She gave me the most wonderful embrace, followed immediately by her daughter and then again by her. It was such a small thing, to hug someone, a basic human interaction, and yet to me, at that moment in time, nothing else could have meant more, nothing. I will admit, being so exhausted and shattered I was nearly brought to tears…it was just so random and amazingly appreciated. Throughout most of the run I was going it alone, and hardly running into even hikers on the trails. This support from random strangers (we never even exchanged names!) helped to lift me back up to where I needed to be to continue through the night alone.

“Well we won’t keep you from your run any longer, get going, GOOD LUCK!”

I only hope they were able to read on my face how thankful I was to have briefly met them.

By nightfall I had reached 19km, leaving me with 28km to cover in the dark. As mentioned a few of us ran the JDF in the fall of 2006. Our time was 7.5 hours which works out to about 6km an hour…this was all we could manage while running it fresh. I had 28km to go and 5.5 hours to cover it in. That left me with a necessary pace of 5km an hour. Again, this does not sound like much, but the Juan De Fuca Trail has to be experienced to fully understand just how tough it really is. The high point on the JDF isn’t even much more than maybe 1,000 feet about sea level...I’m not sure of the exact height, but looking at this trail on a map you would never guess what it has in store for you. I just wanted to focus on hiking the hills as fast as my body would allow, for I knew this is where I would loose the most time if I did not stay focused.

I was now running through the dark and the only breaks I would get from the solitude of the trails at night were my few mandatory beach 'running' sections. It was the Saturday night of the long weekend and all the accessible beach areas were littered with drunken partiers. Most were very helpful with directing me to the trail heads off of the beach, as the majority of the JDF marking is not reflective and it would often be tough to find the trails that lead away from the ocean. At one point late into the night I stopped to ask the only visible person, if he knew where the trail head was. All he could do was sway back and fourth while he seemingly tried to determine exactly what this reflective figure with a headlamp shining into in his face actually was. I slowly asked again and it became obvious that he was now agitated, but still speechless. As I was about to try one last time I recognized the look in his eyes, he was so confused as to what was going on that his only solution was to try and fight his way out of it! As he was trying to stabilize himself for a confrontation I immediately started backing away and hoping that I could actually outrun him if need be! I was certainly in no shape to be absorbing any additional non self inflicted punishment!

Just after midnight, while struggling to stay on pace for my sub 24hr goal, my stomach basically threw in the towel. I did not puke, but thought for sure that I would. No matter how hard I tried, I simply did not have enough calories on me to get my body back to good. I stuffed down over 500 with a mix of Carbo-Pro, a snickers bar, some Cliff Shots and a gel. It did absolutely zero to relieve the discomfort. My stomach did not even flinch. It was as if it was talking to me, and I could fully understand exactly what it was saying...

"I'll let you have your 24 hours of running, la ti freakin da I really could not care less about all of this right now, but I'll let you have it anyways...however, at 24hr and 1 minute, I OWN YOU!! If your ass is not planted firmly in a chair by that point in time, look out cause you're gonna wish we had never met!"


All I could do was ensure that I stayed on top of my electrolytes. I made sure that I continued to consumed regular doses of my Nuun tablets and it seemed to be enough to at least keep me going in a straight line!

At my last beach crossing everyone was out for the count. I was 2am and all that stood out were the reflective fly sheets on most of the tents. I continued past all the campers and eventually found myself at a rocky headway. The water was slowly lapping into the cliff face and I was left wondering if I had mis-calculated my tides? I waded out into shin deep water and tried to see around the rocks. It took me all of three seconds to determine that if I had to continue along this route it was all but over until day break. Thankfully I had actually remembered to pack my JDF trail stats with me, upon referencing them I realized that I simply had to have gone too far. I should have had five feet of tidal leeway with this beach. As I doubled back I was very fortunate to accidentally spot a somewhat hidden trail head sign. I stopped to try and pry a rock from my shoe and the trail was but ten feet in front of me! Had I not stopped I surely would have returned to the camping area and dropped valuable time in the process. I hopped onto the trail and realized that I could potentially be done with my suffering in 90 minutes, with a bit of luck and an elevated running pace.

Again I was forced to dig deep and I somehow found a reserve of energy that I did not know I possessed. Surely most of it was fueled by the adrenaline rush of a potential end to my misery.

I seemed to remember the JDF trail relenting just a little bit in the last four kilometers...I remember wrong, way wrong! There were no breaks, none, not a single freakin km on that trail is given to you!

At 3:22am I found myself at the 2km to go marker. I had 42 minutes left for my sub was all but in the bag. I tried to run it in, but there was no point, everything I set out to accomplish was about to unfold in front of me wheter I ran or hiked. I tried to enjoy the final 22 minutes of the Juan De Fuca Trail. As painful an experience as it was, I knew that not a single memory thereafter would retain this information, in fact even now it takes a full on effort to recall exactly how much it did hurt at times. Instead my memories are of setting out to accomplish a lofty goal. One that many, including myself, doubted could be done as an individual. This was just 4km shy of being twice as far in distance as I had ever continuously run before, and over three times longer in time than my previous longest run (the 06 JDF run), yet I never once questioned if I would finish this route. Barring severe injury I was fully confident that I could tough it out...the sub 24 was up in the air and but icing on the cake at this point in time.

I fully realized how fortunate I was on this particular weekend. First and foremost, Carlos Castillo sacrificed his own long weekend to at least give me a shot at this one. The weather worked out perfectly. There was very little rain leading up to my departure and not a single drop throughout the run. Numerous sections of trail would have been significantly increased in difficulty with even the slightest precipitation. The tides, the tides, the tides. I have no idea what would be considered normal for the tidal changes on a typical day over this route, but I could not have asked for any better. The permit...well, as I learned, anyone who sets up on the Warden's doorstep at 7am is virtually guaranteed a day permit.

In less than a day I managed to experience the absolute highs and lows of the human spirit. I had met some great people on the trail, no matter how brief our encounters, and although I did not spot a whale, I did run through no fewer that a million sea gulls, witnessed a few bald eagles, apparently missed a cougar encounted by mere minutes, and came within twenty feet of running into a black bear.

These thoughts and more were flying through my mind as I managed to get my legs to kick and run the final 500 meters to the JDF parking area. I started screaming in joy and Carlos, having agreed to start running towards me had I not hit my sub 24, starting yelling back. I got to run the final 100 meters with Carlos and Roxy and when I hit that parking lot I had but one thought going through my mind...

Why didn't I pack a cooler of beer for myself!!!

I dropped my ass into a chair and every inch of my body screamed out in unison,


My official running time for the Juan De Fuca was 9hr and 17min, and all up I had taken 23hr40 to knock down the 130km. For a fraction of a second I contemplated running an additional 30km on the road to get my first 100 miler, then I smacked myself right in the teeth to snap my ass out of it...I wasn't going to move an inch under my own power for at least a full week!

Thanks to everyone for your pre run support and post run congrats. Australia for an 800km expedition race known as XPD in four days!! (just over a week till the event begins)

Thanks, as always, to Helly Hansen for supplying me with the best gear to tackle these challenges.

P.S. Anyone know of a 200km route that has not been run yet??



Anonymous said...

you're crazy - in a good way :)

Anonymous said...

Nice job Gary! Incredible run and a great story to go with it. We haven't met but I'm a friend of RVGs and have done the first two momars that you guys won this year. I'll be cheering both you guys on in australia. Good Luck! -Dan

Anonymous said...

Hey Gary sounds like you continue to push the limits well done. By the Carlos and i went to school together, small world!

Jamie Nott said...

I may have just the route you are looking for. I will be looking for someone to run from Banff to Jasper on the trails. I still need to iron out all the details but there are trails in place and I know people have hiked it. If interested e-mail me at