Sinister 7 - Crowsnest Pass, Alberta
Elevation Range: 2500' - 7518' Elevation Gain/Loss: 20,739'
July 6, 2019 - Despite being severely injured it seemed better to follow through with my adventure plans rather than withdraw from an event I knew I could not finish. Some amount of racing sounded better to me than sitting on the sidelines and not starting at all. I had been wanting to experience the beauty and challenge of Crowsnest Pass for some time. While it would have been nice to come here and tear up the trails in my twenties, I would now have to settle for hobbling through the mountains as an old man instead.
Sinister 7 consists of seven legs. As a solo contestant I signed up to do them all. Most in the entrants were relay participants. There were 250 solo entrants and 150 teams, so that at any one time there were most of 400 people on the course. For an ultra, the event was large. The crowd of participants, family, and crews that filled the Crowsnest Sports Complex ice arena (at right) to hear pre-race announcements was as loud and enthusiastic as any you might hear at any hockey match. After enjoying a very tasty meal of pasta and salad we all listened to the race director make light of the fact that there are grizzly bears, mountain lions, and even wolves on the course, and that while there is at least one sighting by someone during the race every year, there has only ever been one negative encounter. Very reassuring!!! These Canadians, foolhardy or not, seemed to laugh it off. Maybe it was really just me over-reacting by packing bear spray! Silly American.
After bivouacing in the mountains under a couple of major thunderstorms during the night, I arose early not very excited about running in 48-degree rain all day up and down slippery trails. After a bus ride to the start at Gazebo Park in Blairmore, the weather seemed to hold off for our start. The mountains were mostly occluded with low-hanging clouds, but there was an encouraging hint of blue sky to the west.
I am always glad when the gun goes off and we can get down to business. After really not training much in recent weeks because of an egregious heel injury, I headed out slow and easy without expectation for the day. A finish was always possible (I put drop bags out in the event things went well), but not likely. My heel was tight early on and quickly became sensitive to uneven terrain.
The first few miles (or kilometers) were mostly level as we crossed the debris field of the infamous Frank Slide where 70 townspeople lost their lives nearly a century ago when the mountain crushed the town of Frank in an enormous rock slide of house-sized boulders. While it did not rain at the outset, the air was humid and the run was sweaty. Once the trail tilted up in our start up to Hastings Ridge I was loose enough to gear down and begin pulling people back. The climbing was easy until we hit muddy terrain made infinitely more slippery by the previous night's rains. Footing was tenuous for everyone. We all just had to slow down to negotiate the muddy trails. Of course, my heel was screaming with every step, but I stayed focused and moved ahead with the pack.
I reached the first major aid station at Transition Area 1 (where purple turns to blue above) where the relay runners would hand off to the next member of their team. Given conditions and my compromised level of fitness I was satisfied to hit 11 miles in 2 hours and 24 minutes. After a quick turn I continued up the long winding climb to the crest of Hastings Ridge. As we climbed, the mud finally gave way to firmer footing, thankfully. Walking more, I seemed tired and was just not into racing with much resolve. Instead I solcialized more and took pictures of the wonderful scenery.
The mountains were sheathed in clouds, making for some magical views across the landscape toward Crowsnest and the Seven Sisters, much of it burned off from recent forest fires. After making the ridge, there was running room again and most everyone made good progress between intermittent climbs.
I knew early on that my heel was not going to take the pounding all day. The downhills on tenous slopes made me question whether it would even hold up until I could stop at the next Transition Area. Taking it easy, even stopping from time to time, paid off as I was able to hobble in to conclude the first 22 miles in five and a half hours. All things considered, it was still a very respectable time, averaging four miles per hour. But I knew my body was beat up badly and I just didn't have the magic to race. So I stopped and caught a ride back to my car.
I enjoyed the day, when all is said and done. No doubt about it. Perhaps for the first time I understood that I am too beat up and weathered to toe the line anymore at these wonderful mountain trail challenges. If I want to continue enjoying this kind of scenery I need to slow down and respect my limitations more. This kind of running is for the young and the fit. I have become an old man begrudgingly hobbling down the trails. While my dreams and aspirations may not have aged, I have to appreciate that my body just cannot live up to the way it used to be. I regret that I will not get to see the balance of the other five legs, but am thankful I got to fully enjoy the first two legs instead of giving the event a pass and missing it all from the sidelines.