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Whistler’s Suter top woman at Ultra 520K

Runner reflects on three-day Okangan race

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Christine Suter has long wanted to take part in the Ultra 520K, but always put it off for another year.

After registering three years ago, she was in the process of delaying her participation in the Okanagan race again when she had her "now-or-never" moment.

"I had actually called the race director this year in January to see if I could postpone it again. He said, 'Christine, I'm sold out this year. I'm sold out next year. The next year I can get you in is 2021,'" she recalled. "I said, 'I may be dead by then, so I guess I'd better do it this year.'"

Despite having recently overcome a stress fracture in her foot, Suter went out from Aug. 3 through 5 and was the top woman in the eight-competitor field, completing the three-day challenge in a combined 29 hours, 46 minutes and 23 seconds (29:46:23). The runner-up, Nancy Fedeyko, was nearly 90 minutes back.

The first day of the race was a 10-kilometre swim and 149.8-km bike ride; the next day was a 275-km bike ride; and the race wrapped with a double marathon, an 84.4-km run. The race, based in Penticton, took competitors to Princeton and Summerland.

Suter started training in January and coming off her stress fracture, hadn't run more than 10 kms since late April when she ran the Big Sur Marathon.

"When I got to the start line, I had absolutely no expectations. I told my crew, 'We have 12 hours every day. We just have to get in at 11:59:59,'" she said.

With a daunting challenge ahead of her, Suter's prime focus was less on the physical challenge and more on the mental side of the task. "My days were filled with gratitude. I really focused on the mental side and the words I kept repeating to myself were, 'Where am I?' and I'd answer, 'here.' And 'What time is it? Now,'" she said. "That was it. Forget about everything else.

"You had to go somewhere mentally and leave your ego behind."

The race presented its share of challenges, including blazing hot temperatures on all three days, but especially on the third day.

As well, Suter recalled that before the run, she felt dizzy. When she looked at crew member Bobbi Sandkuhl and said she wasn't feeling 100-per-cent, Sandkuhl realized Suter hadn't eaten enough and remedied the situation.

"She just started grabbing food out of the back and she was pumping food into me," Suter recalled.

That wasn't the end of Suter's troubles on the third day, as early on, she struggled to get going, though Sandkuhl came to her rescue again.

"When I first started off, five kilometres in, I had a meltdown. I was crying. I was walking," she said. "Bobbi again leaned right out the window of the truck and said, 'Get that attitude out of your feet back up into your head. You're doing this, let's go.'

"That was it."

Sandkuhl also informed Suter that she had a 90-minute lead on the second-place runner, which was the first time Suter realized she had the lead.

From there, Suter felt that she just needed to make it to the 30-km point, where she would meet her run pacer, Marla Zucht.

In addition to Sandkuhl and Zucht, the other crew members were Greg Sandkuhl and Brian Buchholz.

"It is not an individual sport. The crew I had was incredible," Suter said. "My success is because of them ... Without them, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be at that finish line, that's for sure."

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