Running Solo 72 KMs & Beyond With Jacqueline Bédard

March 5, 2021

Welcome back to another edition of the Chaski Athlete Spotlight series, we interviewed Jacqueline Bédard (coached by Pete Kostelnick) after her recent solo 72 kilometre race. Originally from Ottawa Ontario (Canada if geography isn't your thing), Jacqueline is actively working up to a 24 hour race while pursuing a career in law.  

Our conversation ranges from her recent race and finishes with some more personal questions. We hope you enjoy!

First, tell us about the "race" itself. What inspired you to take on a solo Ultramarathon?

I’ve done a solo ultra every month since July. In the past, I have usually only done two races per year (mostly due to cost & time constraints), but this time I wanted to experiment doing more and building off each one. I also wanted to test out different strategies, snacks/drinks, etc. With all the races in my area cancelled, I decided to take advantage of being able to set my own course and schedule.

I tend to get super nervous before races, so I was interested to see if doing more might help get me more used to them and help me be calmer going in.

All my races this summer have been on the same course in my neighbourhood (about 1.5k), and I have always run it in the same direction.

I started doing ultras in 2016 (timed 6 hr races – one on a 400m track and one on a 1k loop). I love running in circles, it means I don’t have to worry about getting lost or anything other than continuing to move forward. Until this year, I had only done timed races.

How has your training been for the last few months? Were you targeting this race specifically? What have your mileage and workouts been like?

My training has been building upon each previous race. None of them so far have been the end goal, more like steps on the way there, and a different way to get in a long run. Since I’ve been doing something like this every month for a little while, I’ve had to balance recovering from one with preparing for the next.

I’ve been super happy to notice that I feel I am bouncing back more quickly than in previous years. Whereas in the spring I had more speed workouts, now they have shifted to more steady distance runs. I am a big fan of doing hill repeats, and I have also made an effort to do more cross-training.

During the summer I got in a routine of doing two to three sprint triathlons a week, going on more walks, and doing at-home yoga. I also enjoy treadmill running for physical and mental training. I find it easier to push my speed on the treadmill because once I set it to a specific number, I would have to actively change it in order to slow down. I also face a blank wall and don’t listen to music. On a good day, it can be nice and meditative, but sometimes it ends up being more of a grind.

How did the race itself play out? What was especially difficult?

I’m happy with how this race went because I think I was able to apply things I learned from the three previous ones this summer, and it was another step towards my big goal: a 24 hour run.

I was looking forward to some cooler fall weather (I’ve only raced in the summer) but it was actually surprisingly warm and humid. All the races in the peak of the summer prepared me for paying attention to my fluid intake. I was also careful to make sure I got enough electrolytes as in the past I noticed I got major headaches if I drank plain water only.

I was grateful to be able to focus on running and not any stomach problems, but the mental toughness I developed during the previous race from those issues was definitely useful. I incorporated training with a backpack in the lead-up to this race, so running without it felt lighter and easier.

By this point, my neighbours aren’t as alarmed when they see me running by in circles for hours on a Saturday morning. Some set up lawn chairs and cheered me on which was an unexpected surprise!

As usual for me, the first 10 kilometres were the hardest. While setting my own schedule means that I can start whenever I want, even the joy I get from running pre-dawn and catching the sunrise was a bit dampened by doubts about my ability to complete the rest of the run. Instead of getting psyched out, I focused on the quiet morning stillness, the brightness of the stars, and the smell of damp leaves. I also kept an eye out for skunks that like to shuffle around my area.

Things started falling into place by 15 k when I fully relaxed into the run and got in a good rhythm. I felt pretty strong for the rest of the race and ended up doing 72 k over 8.5 hours.

While I train alone, during normal races I base my effort off of what other people seem to be doing. I usually pace myself by picking someone to follow and adjusting as necessary. I try not to let people pass me, and to pick progressively faster runners throughout the race.

With that no longer being an option, I noticed that I definitely ran faster from the start but interestingly, didn’t feel as though I was because I had no gauge. I don’t look at the time or my pace during a race, my only benchmark is the number of laps I have done. So it was a pleasant surprise to finish and find out that it was less time than I thought!

There are many points that are challenging and we have to talk ourselves back into the race, did you have that and how did you overcome those doubtful thoughts?

I relied on the mental toughness I built up throughout my previous races and especially hard training days. While I love a long, chill distance run, there is a certain satisfaction from going into a workout you anticipate being difficult, struggling through it, but ultimately finishing. When I was finding it hard to get going at the start of this race I remembered that I have done difficult things in the past and that getting through challenges is what makes the experience what it is.

I also like to focus on the fact that running an ultra is something I chose to do, and how fortunate I am to be able to make that choice. After seeing race pictures over the years I realize that most of the time I run with a goofy grin on my face, sort of like a dog with its head out the window of a car. If I’m struggling through, reminding myself to smile and physically doing it can help see things in a more positive light.

I also kept this race in perspective with respect to my overall goals. Zooming out and thinking about how this will make me stronger is good for viewing any challenges as the strength I can use in the future.

Lastly, what'd you do after the race to celebrate? Do you have any other races/FKTs planned for 2020?

I bought new running shoes! I wear one pair at a time until they start to fall apart, and then buy the updated version of the same model (Brooks GTS haven’t let me down yet!). I didn’t anticipate having to test them out on the treadmill, but the person helping me out at the store was very convincing. Since he turned it on with a remote I thought he was going to stop it as well, but he just kept chatting instead and then went to help someone else. “You’re still here?” he said when he came back.

It was Canadian Thanksgiving, so my post-race dinner was all the pies: pumpkin pie and vegan tourtière. I also usually drink a soy hot chocolate shortly after I finish running. After drinking sports drinks I am usually really in the mood for something with a different taste and texture.  

I also like to go for a lake swim the day after a race. Nothing intense, just a causal paddle around. This time it had the added bonus of being a natural ice bath.

Tell us a little about yourself, when and how did you get into running?

I’ve always enjoyed running but didn’t really get into it until my first year of law school (2015/16). Before that, I ran as part of triathlon training, but my focus was more on swimming. When I began law school I changed universities and the triathlon team’s practices conflicted with my schedule.

I moved from a big city to a small town which was much more conducive to running. I started going for runs with no real purpose other than wanting to be outside, by the lake, and take a break from studying. I enjoyed the freedom that came with just being able to put on my shoes and go.

During Winter Break of that year, I randomly came across the Desert Runners movie on TV and heard about ultramarathons for the first time. I found a local 6-hour race for the spring, registered, and rolled up a few months later excited and entirely unprepared. I loved it immediately and signed up for the next one on my drive home.

How long have you been training with Coach Pete?

I’ve been with Coach Pete since the beginning of August.

What has been your most meaningful experience as a runner?

I never imagined that anything I do could impact others, but I’ve had people tell me that hearing about my experience with ultras inspired them to go for big goals they were afraid of.

Mental health-wise, running has become more than just a fun thing to do and has given me the structure to help cope with those challenges. Having running goals gives me a reason to stick to a training plan instead of being controlled by either manic bursts of energy or deep lows. It's not the only thing I do to manage being bipolar, but it is a meaningful part.

How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

On my third solo ultra of this year, I dealt with intense stomach pain. It pretty much always hurts to some degree, but I had never experienced it at that level during a race. It had started the night before and I put it down to nerves, but it never dissipated.

Every loop around my neighbourhood I passed by my house and thought about ending my run. Each step I thought both “I can’t do this” and “just one more step”. At 30k I stopped to regroup, unsure about continuing. I drank some ginger tea and put hand warmers in the front pocket of my top as a kind of makeshift hot water bottle. I let go of any time goals but decided to go on and complete 50 k. I never physically felt any better, and I did have to stop a few more times, but it was an important mental win for me because I proved to myself that I could rely on my mind to pull me through when my body was struggling.

What has your sport taught you that you may not have learned elsewhere?

I find myself drawing on the mental toughness required in ultras during my daily life. There is something empowering about choosing the challenge of an ultra, that is applicable to the life-stress that we are forced to deal with. It works the other way too – sometimes I draw on times I overcame non-running situations to aid me through a tough race or workout.

In the last five years what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life (and your running)?

Something I think about in both running and life is the idea of resting not stopping. I’m not sure where I first heard it, but I find it applies equally to a hard workout or race, as it does to studying for the bar or facing a tough assignment at work. Taking a break isn’t an automatic failure, and sometimes that’s the most strategic move to allow you to reach your goal.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I always find the first 5-10 k of an ultra the hardest. There’s so much more to go, and somehow the beginning never feels as easy as I expect it to. It takes me about that long to warm up and start to get in a good rhythm. It’s during this time that I have to keep things in perspective. I try to ignore the rest of the race and concentrate on just that moment, and how happy running makes me feel.

I remind myself that it's not worth stressing about how long I have left because eventually I’ll get there and I’ll deal with it then. I find that kind of mindset helpful when I struggle with taking rest days as well: when its time to run, I’ll run, and when it’s time to rest I’ll rest. Soon enough one phase will be done and I’ll be into the next.

Thank you Jacqueline this has been such a pleasure! We love talking to and learning from our athletes. If you have a race coming up and are open to sharing we would love to discuss your experience and share it here.

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