COLUMN: Suffer Fest — One runner’s perspective
It’s a breezy Kaslo morning, August 30, a few minutes past sunrise, and as I look downward toward my shuffling feet, strapped into a pair of Vibram toe shoes, I take a moment to wonder what the morning has in store for me.
It’s the beginning of the Kootenay Suffer Fest, the tongue-in-cheek-(mostly)-named outdoors event that has taken place in Kaslo and the surrounding area for the past five years.
For a few days, hundreds of participants will gather, muster up their stores of will power, and partake in various trail running, mountain biking, and community-based events.
Today I’ve chosen to throw myself into the 50-km trail race. It’s been my goal for the past two years to enter this event, and now, with a few road marathons under my run belt, I finally feel that I’m ready.
There are 20 of us at the starting line. Most of us are laughing. Some of us are stretching. I’m excited and terrified. There’s a quick countdown, and then we’re off.
Now I’ve never been a sporty or competitive person, nor do I have a typical runner’s physique, but somewhere along the line I figured out that I was stubborn enough to move for a long time without stopping.
Running has never felt like a battle, but like a constant negotiation between mind and body. The first three kilometres pass smoothly, winding along the river and coming back through town. Then the route rises straight up the mountain at the north end of Kaslo. With one determined holler, I begin to climb.
At this height, 1,100 vertical feet, I can see the tiny town of Kaslo far below me. I’m always amazed at the amount of community support that this event generates. For a few days, the town enters Suffer Fest mode, with the majority of the population either volunteering, participating in or sponsoring the festival. Just this year, the event has expanded to include New Denver and Nakusp, with new races in each respective location. There’s even a mountain marathon up Idaho Peak happening on Sunday out of New Denver.
A few of my fellow racers mention that today is their warm up for that run. My jaw drops.
The route is beautiful. The course has been following an old wagon trail and, after descending the ridge that I had climbed, I’m feeling pretty good. My calves are beginning to hurt, there’s a tightness in my hips, but my spirits are high. When I discovered trail running two years ago after moving to Nelson, I knew there was no going back to the pavement. The monotony of road running is nowhere to be found on the trail; there are changing terrain features, rises and falls, new routes to discover. A volunteer at an aid station tells me I look like I could go all day. I laugh and say, “We’ll see about that.”
Halfway. As I reach this point, I think of my mom, who has come here from Fernie to run the 25-km race. Last year, after introducing her to trail running for the first time, she just took off with the sport, as if she had been born doing it. Her run, which starts at 9 a.m., is just about to begin. This is a family-centric, very social event. You don’t wear headphones, you talk to your fellow runners. You bring your family, you have fun.
The suffering has set in. My whole body hurts and I can’t think. My legs feel like they’re going to break like spindles beneath me. The entirety of my being has come down to the simple, excruciating task of moving forward, despite everything else my body wants me to do.
I begin to talk to myself aloud, almost deliriously, appealing to the misplaced logical side of my brain. I tell myself that I can do it. That it’s no big deal. I’m not sure I believe myself. But I keep going.
I’ve emerged from the slump, a wash of euphoric, endorphin-fueled energy flowing through me. The pain in my legs has subsided, turned to easy numbness, and any barriers in my mind are broken down. I’m embarrassingly near tears, and I’m so grateful for the race volunteer marshals for sitting out in the woods all day to direct and encourage tired runners, for my mom for coming to Kaslo with me to participate in this madness, for all the goodness that is in my life. I’m so happy to be alive.
And before I realize it, I’ve run further than I ever have. I cross the finish line with a cheesy dance move and hug Janis Neufeld, the race organizer, who is at the finish line to congratulate everybody who passes. I embrace my partner, Sam, who has been my biggest cheerleader, and together we watch and wait to cheer on my mom as she finishes. She crosses the line, strong and smiling.
Somehow, though we started and finished in the same place, we’ve traveled so much further than the mileage on the course map would suggest. I look down at my feet, now tense, dirty, and sore, and feel like it was six hours and 10 minutes well spent.
— Eli Geddis is a Nelson-based educator, writer, and now, apparently, ultra-marathoner. He blogs at eligeddis.com.