Struggles and joys of running 50 kms across the Monkman wilderness

Lisa Ramer has been cycling with Bike for Bibles for many years but this year, she decided to do a different event to raise funds for Bible distribution work in Rwanda (She’s My Sister). This event called Monkman Madness, which she herself organized, involved another activity that she loves: running. Along with a couple of friends, she trained this summer to prepare herself to run 50 kilometres across the wilderness of Monkman Provincial Park in British Columbia. Lisa successfully completed the run on August 24, 2013. In this article, she shares her experience along the trails of Monkman – the decisions to be made, the struggles and joys of running, and the feeling of accomplishing a personal goal.

“I run because it’s so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can’t. But then you find your inner strength, and realize you’re capable of so much more than you thought.” ~ Arthur Blank

My thoughts Friday morning centred around hoping this might be true. I went over my checklist several times: hydration pack (which one should I wear? The small one and go minimalist or the bigger one and be sure to have everything I need?), socks (Smartwool or Injiji toe socks), which gels and do I have enough? Just how long are we expecting to be out on this trail anyway? How much water will we need to carry? We were planning to refill our water from a stream along the trail but we didn’t know where it is. Oh, but Brad (our “roadie”) was going to drop 2 litres for us to share at kilometre 13.5 (I hope we can find it!) I was glad I had a new Patagonia rain jacket which is super lightweight and packs up small, and it looks great! The color of a sunny blue sky… at least I’ll look the part even if I don’t feel the part! …Oh yeah, checklist.

And this was how it went all day. Am I prepared? Well… I have everything I need to make the day a success as far as gear goes. But, do my legs and feet have it? Will my heel hold up? I will be running with two very accomplished runners: Garry Roth (an under-10-second 100-metre man) and Paul Birnbaum (Kansas State champion runner). Will I hold them back? I may have to suck my pride and slow them down in order to survive the whole distance. Will I be able to do that? I had only been training seriously for eight weeks which was a paltry, insignificant amount of time to attempt to run 50 kms on mountain trail. What was I thinking?

What WAS I thinking?

“I can’t wait to get out there!” “I love the feeling of being wholly alive flying down a trail on my own two feet!” “Will we see a bear?”

Saturday morning dawned with overcast skies and mild temperatures, perfect for running, barring a deluge from the leaden roof. I woke up at 7:00 a.m., made a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts and swallowed a sip of coffee. Last minute choices of clothing were made, the hydration pack was hoisted and we were off by 8 a.m.

We started VERY slowly knowing it would be a long day. I was amazed (and slightly appalled) at the amount of roots reaching out to trip me up. And then the rain began. It added a treacherous slickness to every root and rock we encountered. These were ridiculously numerous; it was like dancing through the roots.
Runners on a bridge
Crossing the Murray River.
The Murray River crossing at km 7 was exciting: a suspension bridge swaying over rushing water. Looking down when crossing created a very sudden motion sickness: water rushing from left to right under my feet. I told myself to just look ahead and enjoy the springiness of the bridge. After the bridge, we spent a few kilometres hiking up and up … and up to the ridge which rewarded us with stunning views! The world opened up and we were greeted with mountain ranges and a river tucked into the valley. It was hard not to trip here as we risked glancing away from where our feet needed to land to try to get a glimpse of the beauty.

The next marker to watch for was km 13.5 where Brad was supposed to leave some water for us. When we got there, there was nothing. We kept going and arrived at a primitive camping clearing at km 14 and still no water. What happened to Brad? There was nothing to do but to keep going, so off we went and promptly arrived at a clear stream where we found two bottles full of water sitting in it, keeping cool. There were other goodies left for us there as well. I had the best tasting chocolate chip cookie ever!

We were off again and all was uneventful until we started getting a little weary and then … WHAM! Garry slipped on a wet rock and pulled his groin, then repeated this performance within a short distance. Next, was my turn: I hit a slick rock and felt my feet go flying out from under me. I was flailing in slow motion trying to prevent the inevitable but no luck! I went down in a tumble of arms and legs landing on a grapefruit-sized rock. I was never as grateful for my hydration pack as I was in that moment. It took the brunt of the impact of that mean, nasty rock in the middle of the trail.

We proceeded in what we thought was a cautious manner and Garry was just getting his feet under him when a root jumped up and grabbed his foot, twisting his ankle. Ouch! We then walked a few kilometres to try to shake these falls off.
Monkman Provincial Park
Monkman Lake. Lisa’s team was greeted by this view when they arrived at their halfway mark and turn-around point.

We arrived at Monkman Lake, our halfway mark, at 12:20 p.m. We felt the warmth of the sunshine for the first time that day. Brad had a picnic table full of goodies waiting for our eager consumption – hot soup, tea, pretzels, seaweed snacks, oysters (yeah … a little weird, but who knows what these crazy ultra-runners will be in the mood for?), gummies, and more! I couldn’t believe he packed this abundance in for us the day before. I imagined his pack felt like a ton of bricks. That is sacrifice. He was our hero of the day.

After snacking on these treats and dipping our sore feet in the ankle-numbing cold waters of Monkman Lake, and exchanging our wet, muddy socks for dry ones, we decided to leave the comfort of Brad’s aid and set out on our return jaunt. And what a jaunt it was!

We decided to take a detour off the mountain into a gully to explore the waterfalls that I had seen pictures of on Google Earth while surveying our route ahead of time. How could we not go see something so pristine after coming so far? The trail down was incredible! We had mossy trails, dips and doodles, and oodles and oodles of berries!  This became a slow hike as we stopped and gorged on the super sweet and perfectly ripe berries. Everywhere you looked there were berry bushes and so many varieties. This was definitely bear heaven!

Foot beside bear paw print
A bear paw print.

I looked around. So where was Mr. Bear? We had seen bear tracks, bear scat, but no bear. The song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” started playing in my mind and I even ventured to sing a few phrases in between my ragged breathing. “Today is the day the teddy bears have their picnic…” as long as it wasn’t us!

Gwillam Falls turned out to be worth every extra footstep. We basked in the glory of it for a while. Sights like these convince me of the goodness of God. He didn’t have to create such vibrant colors or stark, rugged beauty and place it where only a handful of people would see. He must truly love us!

We had to backtrack to our original trail and hoped that Brad was making his way out ahead of us now. We joked about trying to stealthily creep up on him and then go crashing through the bush. But every twist and turn on the trail was empty. No Brad. I consoled myself with the thought that he must be behind us still. But at 15 kms to go, we finally see Brad. He was hoofing it! The look on his face was priceless! Paul, being our speedster, got to him first. Brad couldn’t believe it when we told him where we’d been. He said, “What were you guys doing?!  You went down to the Falls? You guys are crazy!”

After a quick snack and some more cool water from the stream, we were off once again. That was when Paul put down the hammer. I was feeling great at this point so I kept him in my sights.  We clocked a very quick 10 km; we actually did a 2:20 half marathon in the second half of this run, which is pretty quick for me in the mountainous terrain. I was feeling stoked about this!

The suspension bridge on the way back was a welcome sight. At this point, it was getting tiring to keep lifting my feet high enough to not trip on a root. The bridge meant we only had seven kilometres left to go. But I swear someone mis-measured the distances. I thought, “Oh boy, this is going to be tough.” The last few kilometres were a mind numbing trudge of walking mixed with jogging, slowing back to a walk when the roots were too numerous to risk running.

There were only two eventful parts in the last 7 kms. The first was my sudden face plant! My right foot encountered a root that refused to budge when I made contact. There was no flailing of arms or legs, no slow motion stumbling; just whoomp! I was on the ground instantly, hurting my shoulder. I got up shaking. I walked that off for a bit and then, without thought, started running again thinking that the more I ran, the faster I would be able to get back to the campsite, to food, to a chair … Then, when I sounded my air horn, it provoked an immense crashing in the bush behind and to my right; I scared something big! I picked up my pace.

Arriving at the campsite was bliss. Hannah and Ben (our teen volunteers) had a fire going and supper cooking. Sitting down on a bench, I pulled off my muddy socks and shoes with swollen hands. My feet looked like I had been soaking in a bathtub for weeks! Food, a shower, and rest brought life back into my tired body; I felt the elation of a strong finish! I did have what it took to run the 50 kms and I enjoyed every second of it!

It was a most excellent day and I ran with the rock stars of running, Garry and Paul. They were superb mates and I am honoured to have run with them.

Let’s do it again!


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