There I was, relaxing on a beach in Mexico, wearing nothing but short-shorts and drinking tequila. My phone vibrated in the beach bag as a message popped up on my running watch. It was my adventure buddy Erik. We chatted a bit about the weather forecast back home for the upcoming Ides of March. We were still a little over a week away, but it was looking favourable. “As long as we don’t get a fucking polar vortex coming through just beforehand like last year and icing up the trail, we’re golden!” I joked. Well! We didn’t get the polar vortex beforehand this time. This time, we got it during. In terms of acclimatization, the heat of Mexico may have been a bad idea for my taper plan.
“The Ides of March is the 74th day in the Roman calendar that corresponds to the 15th of March. It was notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts.”
The Abby Grind (1.7km up, 1.7km down, climbing and descending roughly 450m) is an excellent trail for doing repeats. Nearly perfect even; by the time you’re at the top, you’re totally ready to stop climbing uphill, and by the time you’re back down at the bottom, you’re just starting to get sick of the pounding descent. It has a history of repeats, and I’m sure that I’m not even aware of many of them. As far as I know, my buddy Jamie set the original double-digit record of 12x. Months later, a Vancouver ultrarunner named Matt did 14x. Then Jamie and I tag-teamed 15x together. Then Matt did 20x (starting to approach the 24 hr mark). We traded back and forth like this for a couple of years, and I’m assuming we eclipsed all the other unknown repeats that came before us? Seems a fair assumption, considering how ridiculous it became.
Matt and I are what you might call ‘Frienemies’, and he is of course the inspiration behind the event’s name, The Ides of March. A month or so before the 2019 Ides of March, I actually titled a Strava run with an anagram hinting at the day I was coming for his record, and tagged him in the post. He solved the puzzle within a day, which is super impressive! The Strava title was “O, Be Few Reach This Dream” which rearranges to become “Beware The Ides of March”, a famous line from Shakespeare; Soothsayer to Caesar, warning of his imminent death. While I certainly wasn’t foreshadowing Matt’s assassination, March 15th, 2019 was definitely a day for settling debts. The attempt in 2019 did not go without hiccups, including multiple hours of excruciating leg cramping and a couple solid pity parties, but with the support of good friends, I got it done, finishing with 24 grinds in 24 hours for a stout new record.
At the end of 2019, with the Javelina Jundred behind me, I began thinking of the upcoming year. It made sense to replicate what, in hindsight, appeared to have been a key early-season effort that set up a great stretch of running over the previous eight months, while again sharing the experience with friends. This time, however, I wanted to do it a bit differently. I approached three of the strongest mountain runners I know with the proposal of a 24 hour group record attempt to take place on the one year anniversary of the original Ides of March, with the plan being for all of us to ideally break the record together. Erik and Marina were instantly enthusiastic about the idea, but Alan didn’t want to commit to the training (Alan isn’t huge on training. ?)
I spent the two months preceding The Ides as an Injured Piece Of Shit, but all that seemed finally behind me, and I was feeling healthy again. On my one and only significant training run leading up to the big day, which was a 60km night jaunt while pulling a pre-Mexico all-nighter before flying out, I buried a bittersweet memento at the top of the grind. It was a wood-handled bottle opener, carved in the shape of a wolf and inscribed with the date of last year’s record. Unfortunately (long story) this artifact was doomed to either the trash can or the mountain, and I felt like the latter is where it belonged.
The training run went well, starting with an ATRC group run, immediately followed by another 25km with Alan, and then the final miles alone, finishing after 2am. The best part was that the next day I wasn’t even all that sore! A ton of anxiety over my perceived loss of fitness during my time as an IPOS dissolved away. My body and mind remembered endurance, and I knew I wouldn’t quit (particularly after burying that bottle opener.) I knew then that I could actually do this!
I also had an excellent sleep on the plane.
The lead up just before the Ides wasn’t spared it’s drama. I think that Marina, Erik and I all had the ol’ taper tantrums. We’d been building towards this for months, but a lot was still up in the air. We sweated over insignificant details like parking proximity based on our mid-day start time; things that truly wouldn’t have any real effect on the outcome. Additionally, the number of people who said they might be attending was getting huge and overwhelming! While we love how our running community steps up to support each other, we worried about how we might feel with a huge entourage when we were 20+ hours into the pain cave. The weather ended up somewhat solving that problem, with attendance being much less than forecasted -pardon the pun! Other friends wanted to join the group not just as pacers but as full 24 hour participants, and we worried how that might effect our group dynamic, pace etc. We weren’t sure if these others expected us to stay with them and all stick together as a group, or if they were just doing their own thing, so there was some anxiety over it as we didn’t want to upset our friends over a silly record attempt.
In classic Alan fashion, he hilariously photoshopped himself into the race poster that our talented buddy Nick created for the three of us. Alan sees an awkward subject that people are avoiding unnecessarily and he just tackles that shit head on, with a huge set of balls. I can’t even get mad at that guy -I love it! While he initially didn’t want to commit to the training (and believe me, he didn’t train, haha) the FOMO was getting to him, plus what I suspect was some inspiration from our mutual friend Hannah recently crushing a “couch to hundred miler” on the notoriously tough HURT100 course. Alan and his massive balls were in for 24hours, and after the photoshopping stunt, there was no backing out!
On the day of the Ides, our worst fears came to pass. The Lower Mainland was being hit by -yup!- Polar Vortex winds. The windchill was predicted to go below -10 overnight. And at the base of the Grind it was even worse. The wind whipped around the mountain with turbulent gusts that shook our vehicles, made opening our doors and hatchbacks nearly impossible, and blinded us with sand. (Side note, Alan had actually been knocked unconscious by his hatchback trunk in the wind earlier, and might have been concussed?) How different our aid station had become from what we had visualized while grocery shopping for embarrassing quantities of junk food and dreaming of sweet sweet chäir-snacks between laps. The wind was so bad that with every lap, I spent the last bit of the descent fervently hoping with all hope that my Thule rooftop cargo box would still be anchored to my vehicle when I popped out of the trailhead, as it was shaking violently while being constantly hammered by the gale force gusts. It survived! [Paid Advertisement] ?
I must give major kudos at this point to my homie and (airquotes) “coach”, Mitch, who did a solo Backyard 100km starting from the same parking lot at the same time, but along the flat dyke with zero tree cover from the relentless wind. Seriously badass, brother. ?
So yeah, the wind and cold were uncomfortable, particularly through the latter part of the night, when the temperatures dropped and we had already been going for so long that our bodies were having a hard time generating and retaining heat. However there was another aspect of the polar vortex that straight up fucked us. The Abby Grind is steep of course, but the half way point is the worst. The half way point is also the spot on the trail that gets buffeted by the worst of the winds, and the windchill had frozen it solid. The 40% grade of this particular section now consisted of rock-hard tundra that no shoe could possibly grip, and even microspikes could barely bite into, sloped such that you could barely stand up even without moving and still not end up on your ass.
I dreaded this section every fucking descent; we all did. One time we even tried bushwhacking off trail to bypass it, but we decided that this took too long and we were up against the clock. Every repeat, this was a gauntlet that we had to brave, and there were many falls but -more than that- anxiety as our bodies grew increasingly taught and brittle with the compounding miles and vert. We dreaded the fall that would take us out of the game, with so much already invested.
At one point I noticed that my microspikes’ traction was getting even more pathetic. They had been dulled by the unforgiving frozen ground, as they were meant for snow and not tundra. Thankfully I had another pair in my car. I hadn’t worn this second pair for ages. These were my original pair of microspikes, had already dulled long ago, but had recently been brought back to life by an elderly gentleman that I’d met on the Grind named Ted, who had sharpened them to weaponized points in his garage such that I was afraid to wear them in case I accidentally kicked myself in the other leg with an errant stride. Ted is turning 70 this year, and is an incredibly inspirational human. These spikes gripped a bit better ?.
We started at 1pm on the 14th, with what ended up being five of us attempting to repeat the Grind for 24 hours. Our friend Jason dropped off the pace immediately, obviously content to do his own thing for the duration. It was great to pass him so many times on the trail and give each other encouragement. Jason ended up crushing it and doing the Grind 19x in those crazy conditions! Alan, Marina, Erik and I set a steady pace of between 45 and 50 minutes per grind, and laughed and chatted our way uneventfully through that windy afternoon until dusk settled in.
But with dark came a pizza delivery (actually two pizza deliveries, uncoordinated yet nearly simultaneous) and we lost Alan to a large quantity of pizza and a trail poop at the end of Lap 9. Alan was never far behind, and we tried to encourage him to catch up, but he ended up settling into his own pace, later supported by his wife Tasha and our friend Erin, among others. Alan is also now the proud holder of the prestigious ‘Glenn Ryder Jorts Fiver’ title, completing his first 5 Laps in a butt-hugging pair of closely cropped jean shorts that certainly accentuate his assets, in spite of the frigid temperatures. Pure madness! Alan went on to put together a truly epic performance, finishing 22 Grinds, a feat made nearly unbelievable due to his sheer lack of training. How do you run for 24 hours straight when you generally average like 2 hours a week? Answer: By being King of the Pain Cave!
Ted (did I mention age 69?!) and members of the Rise&Grind crew, daily denizens of the Grind whom I had initially met while training for the previous year’s attempt, showed up at 11pm to Grind through the night in solidarity. We had heard that they might be there, but we were still quite surprised, figuring that everything would’ve been called off on their end due to the arctic winds and the danger of falling branches; it gave everyone involved a pretty reasonable ‘out’ that of course no one involved took. Their crew was always a merry sight on the trail through that cold cold night, and they accomplished their goal of 7x, leaving a painted rock at the lookout to mark each completed Grind.
The night. The absolute need to warm up in the car versus the extremely tight race against the clock not allowing us sufficient time to do so. We were so fucking cold, and the wind never let up, contrary to the forecast. We were all suffering, but Marina started going downhill around Lap 18. She was grinding along without complaint as she always does, but the cold was obviously getting to her, and she looked like death.
It’s so hard to balance the layering properly such that you don’t sweat on the uphill and then freeze in wet clothes on the descent or the moment you stopped moving. Marina’s pace was slowing too, resulting in Erik and I having to wait a few times each Grind, which made us very cold indeed. The three of us had talked about just such a situation; that as a group we had to stick to the record pace and not let one of us take down all three. We now realized that we had fallen off pace and were digging ourselves a hole. Marina kept telling us to leave her. But after 18 hours of grinding together, we just couldn’t do it! Eventually she forced us to, by informing us of her intention to take a lengthy break at the bottom in order to warm up. Marina did just that, rallying and finishing strong, tallying 23 Abby Grinds! There’s no quit in my friends, and I’m very proud of them!
Erik and I were back on pace, and dawn was breaking on a new day which always provides a morale and energy boost. But we had dug quite the hole through the last few laps, and now were resigned to matching my previous record of 24x. “We’ll still get to share the record.” I told Erik. “We’re going to beat my time from last year at least, as I was right up against the 24 hour buzzer.” We did our thing quietly for a while longer, until something very cool (and maybe slightly embarrassing in a way) happened.
On lap 21 to our surprise, this super fast road runner named Mark Klassen that I sometimes train with on the local track (although he passes me doing my 400m sprints while he’s doing mile repeat pace) showed up, all set to do a few laps with us in road shoes (!). Although things were thawing out a bit in the morning sun, there is no way he should’ve been able to keep upright on that descent whatsoever! Both Erik and I marvelled at this aloud, and he shrugged and said “I’ve always been light on my feet.”
Man, I don’t get it. A road runner. Road shoes… Anyways, Mark set a decent pace both up and down the Grind. It wasn’t an out-of-reach-pace, but it was significantly faster than what we’d been doing. We both respect Mark a great deal, we’re in awe of his speed, and neither of us wanted to death march lamely in front of him, so we were forced to keep up -to our dismay! After the first lap, we sighed in relief as he went to his vehicle, but “Oh shit he’s coming back!”
At this point my frienemy and previous record holder Matt had heard of the attempt and had also shown up, pacing us for the final laps with a couple others. We were at 23x now, and we’d made up a lot of time due to what we’d later call ‘The Klassen Effect’.
After doing some mental math while marching up this 23rd Grind, which was to be our second-to-last, I said to Erik, “If we keep this up, we’re going to have to do another Grind.” I’m not sure how enthusiastically I said it, to be honest, because a part of me was definitely not enthusiastic about the prospect of once again trying for 25, after completely reconciling myself with having only one Grind left to go after this one. I was totally okay with only doing 24, I just wanted so badly to be finished. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to stop. However Erik showed no such hesitation, and only picked up the pace after my comment. This man is as steadfast as they come! I followed him up the hill again.
Well we did it! When Erik and I popped out at the Abby Grind lookout on lap 25, we found Alan and Marina and their pacers enjoying their last view from the top. After a satisfying moment shared together, we all shuffled down together and emerged at the trailhead to loud cheers and cowbell. We sat down in the dirt and had a beer, and a few happy tears rolled down my cheeks.
What a day to share with everyone. What were already strong bonds were strengthened so much more on March 14th/15th. And even though I would have loved to share the record with all involved, we knew going in that this would be an unlikely result. You can’t run 90+ km with 11500m of climbing without shit going wrong for some of us, and the record required a nearly perfect performance from each of us. Nonetheless, despite going through their respective hardships, I loved witnessing everyone persevere and never give up. The event was a huge success! We all were glowing at the end through our smears of dirt and grime.
The difficult thing about repeats on any course is that you’re always coming back to your vehicle. 24 times I could have quit and been home soaking in the bath tub with beer in hand within 10 minutes time. That shit is hard to resist! And another thing; fractions suck! We started at such a small one (1/25th) and it took so very long just to get to a measly third! The sheer weight of the undertaking in terms of your position within those fractions can absolutely crush one during a low period. “I am already *this* tired, and I’m not even close to half way finished?!?”
For me, the only way to keep going is to try to stay as present as possible. The next stride doesn’t hurt that badly; it’s totally manageable. It’s the thought of the thousands more to come that can only feel as bad or worse. That weight. That’s what really hurts. But it’s not true even; sometimes the strides start to feel better, and then the low is behind you. Believing this is a powerful tool.
How long will it take for the wooden wolf bottle opener to decompose entirely where it’s buried and become one with the mountain? Hopefully by then I’ll be once again using joy as the main fuel source for silly feats like The Ides of March. I feel that utilizing emotional pain as one’s primary fuel source isn’t particularly sustainable, even though it has burned fairly brightly for nearly a year now. And there is joy too, absolutely! Especially when these silly feats are done together with great friends. I truly believe that all lows end, but some just take a while. For now, I’ll do my best to stay present, keep believing, and hopefully keep sharing incredible experiences with my amazing friends and family.
Thank you everyone! Thank you to my lovely family for bringing me soup, coffee and pizza and to all the local runners and friends who came out for a lap or two or dropped off some treats or simply rang a cowbell at the bottom; you all made it special! I can’t believe that our taper tantrums led us to being momentarily cranky about your hypothetical collective involvement. Taper tantrums are a real thing and not to be taken trivially! All that Not running makes a person crazy, and that’s a fact. And of course thank you to my foolish friends that sign up for my dumb ideas; I truly couldn’t do it without you! ?
Oh yeah, we also got jump-scared by a Sasquatch or something at like midnight. Classic.
1 thought on “The Ides of March 2020”
Passed you and Kaden on the grind last week and someone found your blog, what a great read! Keep up the great work