Mallory Richard

Photo: Geoff Cordner.

With maple syrup fuelling her, Winnipeg’s Mallory Richard had perhaps the race of her life at the world’s oldest, and most famous, 100-mile trail race.

The Canadian finished 11th this past weekend at the Western States Endurance Run, a point-to-point trail ultramarathon that finishes at Placer High School in Auburn, Calif. The 32-year-old, who got into the sport in 2011, was the top Canadian in what was her seventh 100-mile (160K) race. The top-10 finishers receive automatic entry for the following year’s race.

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“I was hoping for a faster time but conditions were tough this year,” she says. “People say it might be bittersweet to just finish outside of the top-10 [because of the automatic entry] but I’m really happy with how I ran.” She did 160K in 22:44:20.

Richard, along with four friends – each participant can have a crew to help at aid stations and to pace at times – from Winnipeg, made the trip, by car to Squaw Valley, the site of the Western States 100. Making stops at the Black Hills in South Dakota and the Wasatch Range in Utah, Richard arrived on the Monday ahead of the June 24 ultramarathon. “Arriving Monday gave me time to get ready for the heat and check out parts of the course to get familiar with the terrain,” she says.

This year’s finishing rate was the lowest since 2009 at 67.2 per cent and temperatures reached 35 C, according to the Western States Endurance Run.

This year’s race was particularly difficult because of the scorching heat in the canyons and the snow in what the race calls the “high country.” To start, runners climb to the race’s highest point, Watson’s Monument, which is situated at 2,656m above sea level. It was the mud, however, that was the worse in the early stages of the race, according to Richard, sometimes being knee-deep. The net-downhill course climbs 5,486m and descends 7,010m.

Richard is particularly satisfied with her pacing strategy. At the 16K mark, known as Lyon Ridge, she was in 126th place overall. She finished 40th overall (including men and women) passing many runners who either faded, or dropped out, because of the brutal conditions. Richard says she handled the heat by carrying 1.5 L of water at all times and routinely replacing the ice in her hydration pack and sports bra. At one point, she went off trail slightly to take a dip in a creek. She also encountered poison oak, which spread, in part, because of a post-race massage.

At the various aid stations, she would swap out her The North Face shoes. Because of the heat, Richard says her stomach “never felt right.” She made the nutrition side of things work by taking in energy gels and, perhaps the most Canadian item of all, maple syrup. Even after the race, Richard said she wasn’t able to eat a whole lot. “It felt weird,” she says of the post-race fatigue. “The closest thing I can compare it to is feeling hungover.”

She says she first found out that she was the top Canadian upon reading the Canadian Running race recap. Stephanie Case followed closely in 15th and Sebastien Roulier was the top Canadian male in 38th. Kaci Lickteig, the defending women’s champion, finished 16th.

She qualified for the Western States 100 lottery by completing the Superior 100 in Lutsen, Minn. in September and the Big Horn 100 in July. She won the Superior 100 and finished fifth at Big Horn. After that, she represented Canada at the 2016 Trail World Championships in Portugal during what she calls a “tough year.” She says that she battled body image issues in 2016 adding that going into worlds, she felt as though she wasn’t a “conventional runner” citing feelings of having imposter syndrome. She used her experience at worlds to prove to herself that she can be competitive at world-class races.

The policy analyst within the city’s Winnipeg Police Board branch prepared for the gruelling Sierra Nevada climbs with what was available in the rather-flat Canadian city. She did stair repeats in her apartment building and would regularly visit ‘garbage hill’ – officially known as Westview Park – in Winnipeg, at times doing her long runs exclusively on the hill.

The next race for Richard? It’s undecided. First priority is getting married in the next month.

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