I need to get this all out before we depart for Squaw Valley on Monday evening. There will simply be too many questions about the entire process by next Sunday afternoon...
The background. Tamsin has been a highly successful athlete her entire life, from a National Pentathlon Championship at sixteen, to a split soccer/track scholarship to Jacksonville University shortly thereafter. She continued to find success in all of her pursuits. Her drive and determination preceding her raw talent. She once pushed so hard in a 1500 meter race that she passed out and collapsed before reaching the finish line! When she came to she looked at her coach and simply said,
"Did I win?"
To which he half laughingly replied, "Uhh NO!"
While competing in one of her university soccer matches she had a nasty collision which resulted in significant knee damage.
Aug 1999: Right ACL reconstruction via right patellar graph, 70% lateral meniscus removal, 30% medial meniscus removal. Symptoms/problems to date, I'm not sure she wants me posting everything so let's just say there's chronic issues with swelling, pain, and osteoarthritis.
One year later she was back to running again, having officially retired from competitive soccer. Shortly thereafter, in her final competitive track meet before graduation, she knew she was done with serious competition for quite some time as her only thought before running the 400 was,
"Once you hit the tape and you'll NEVER EVER have to do this again!"
If I'm not mistaken she won, graduated/retired from track, and decided to relocate back to North Vancouver, B.C. She then proceeded to continue exploring her childhood background on our local North Shore trail system. Every now and then Tamsin would toe the line in a local race, and this would usually end up with her winning the women's and 'skirting' all but a few of the men. She'd then quietly disappear until she chose to show up at another event sometime later in the year.
She continued to train her speed work through a local running club and eventually someone suggested she try duathlon road racing (her swimming ensured she'd never find serious success in triathlon). She bought her first ever road bike in January, won her first ever duathlon and competed in Nationals within seven months of taking her first pedal stroke. She finished 2nd! She pretty much had the worst transitions in the entire race! She very easily could have been National Champion the following year but she found that she hated the seriousness behind the structure of training for such events and she retreated back to her first love, trail running.
Shortly after this she decided to try out snowshoe running and as always she found great success with this as well, finishing no worse than second against much more seasoned and experienced snow-runners (It takes a few races to figure out how/when to actually pass, and how to attack different styles of courses. Lack of experience often lead to being 'boxed out' early and paying the price with a slower overall time)
This is where I come into the picture. I had heard Tamsin's name through local race scene and had even seen her name in print a few times. Eventually we met one day when she came into North Shore Athletics, the running store I work at. We were both in other relationships at the time so my genuine primary focus was simply to get her motivated to try an ultra marathon. I have a great passion for ultra marathons, and I have a great passion for being Canadian. I truly set out to try to convert as many Canadian's as possible into the trail and eventually ultra running scene...and I'll even take some credit for pushing Aaron Heidt into the scene as well, though I'm sure he would have found his way in there quite easily on his own! I love nothing more than seeing a good battle between The North and The South at major ultra races and I sincerely hope to continue this trend over the coming years.
Within five minutes I had convinced Tamsin to sign up for our local Diez Vista 50k, AND we somehow decided to race the six day, 185km, Trans Rockies together!!
Her ultra debut came on April 18th 2009. The race was not stacked with talent, but BC ultra super star Tracy Garneau was on the line. I simply pointed to Tracy and said to Tamsin,
"That's your only competition out here today!"
Tamsin ran a smart race, which is quite startling considering it was her first ever attempt at the distance. Like myself, she has yet to run an actual road marathon. She ACTUALLY listened to the bits of advice I threw her way, mostly consisting of,
"DON'T START OUT TOO FAST OR YOU'LL END UP CRAWLING TO THE FINISH LINE!"
At one point in the race Taz was seven full minutes back of Tracy. She decided it was time to make a move and she managed to pull even with Tracy with less than five miles to go. She then put in a track like surge, got her gap, and went on to run the second fastest time in the history of the event!! I'm not about to say that this was an 'A' race for Tracy, but we all know that competitors are competitors and we are always shooting to win no matter what the circumstances might be. I myself had won and set a CR, but I was honestly more amazed by what Tamsin had just accomplished. I knew then and there that she was going to be highly successful in her ultra running pursuits.
Unfortunately however, right about this time is where her old knee issues started to flare up on her again. While training for The Diez Vista she found that the increased mileage seemed to put excess strain on the knee. She went to work on trying to figure it all out and ended up spending a small fortune on physio, bracing, massage, acupuncture, and anything else that might help the process. She found little relief and simply sucked it up and tried not to complain about it.
In August we headed to Colorado to race Trans Rockies together. Two weeks prior we had gone on our first date and we basically said that we'd get to figure out in six days of running and sharing a tent what might take most couples six months to learn! At this point I saw first hand just how bothersome her knee truly was. She was almost debilitated on many of the steep forest service road descents and our race was completely controlled by just how much pain she could stomach at a time. She ran smart though and we made up time when we could/needed to and after six days of touring the Colorado Rockies we found ourselves atop the Open Mixed Podium together!!
Three weeks later she tackled her second 50k in Manning Park (sight of this summer's Fat Dog 100 miler!). Again knee issues hindered her but she still managed to win the race and lower the fairly new event's women's course record!
After this the knee just seemed to go downhill (no pun intended) and after many Doctor's appointments it was decided that she would pay privately to have a knee scope by one of the top Doctor's in British Columbia in December. She still intended to head to Virginia for Mountain Masochist in November and race her first fifty miler though.
Three of us flew down for the race, all attempting to qualify for Western States. Her knee was her/our only concern heading into the event and my exact comments to Race Director Clark Zealand in advance of the start were,
"If her knee pain doesn't slow her down too much she'll win for sure."
Tamsin sucked it up, as she always does, and she won her first ever 50 miler in the fifth fastest time in the 27 year history of the run! Our good friend Nicola Gildersleeve snagged second, and to round out our North Vancouver assault I finished third in the men's race.
She later admitted to me that this was one of her proudest moments as a runner because she really wasn't sure how she would handle getting through fifty miles on her compromised knee.
She was officially going to Western States in June 2010. Her knee scope had been scheduled accordingly for mid December, and we'd been told the recovery process might be three weeks.
On December 17th I dropped her off at a private clinic in New Westminster, BC. The top knee specialist in this province, maybe in Western Canada was on the job. He was employed for/by The Olympics while they swung through town in February. Taz had paid a small fortune to prevent having to wait the six to eight months otherwise, which was meant to ensure as little impact to her training schedule as possible.
Five hours after I dropped her off she was released from what initially appeared to be a successful surgery. We slept at home that evening and we were both pleasantly surprised by her mobility. I headed to work the following morning and Tamsin spent the day with friends.
At 5pm on Friday December 18th I received a panicked phone call at work simply instructing me to get home ASAP. Her parents were already by her side and an ambulance had been called. The next few months of our lives were about to be altered beyond belief. I ran home in under three minutes to find my girlfriend bed ridden and buckled over in pain. The ambulance was taking forever...