Obstacles can be overcome with an iron will and the occasional air rescue, competitive runner and coach Allison Tai has found.
In 2006, two weeks after a second place finish at Ironman Canada, Tai was rear-ended by a truck travelling at 100 km/h. “It was the titanium bike that saved me,” she says. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.” Tai suffered a broken back, pelvis and arm and was in a body cast for six months. Doctors feared her running days, which started in 2003 in college and soared with wins or placements in everything from 10K races to marathons, were over.
Tai was undaunted, relying on physiotherapy, taking small steps and watching them slowly progress.
“At first it was only 10 seconds of running,” says the Vancouver woman. A year after the horrific accident, she registered for the Angeles Crest 100-mile endurance in California and made it 76 miles until “the wheels came off.” It did gauge, though, how far she had come in just a year.
Since then, Tai — a fitness and obstacle course coach for her company Inspired Movement plus the mother of two preschool children — has titled up with the Guinness World Records for fastest time in the 10K pushing a stroller (43:07). Last November, she placed second at the World’s Toughest Mudder in Las Vegas.
If those adventures weren’t enough, a Saturday afternoon run in January along a logging road from Port Alberni to her mother’s Qualicum Beach home turned into a rescue drama. When Tai was a no-show for a rendezvous with her husband, John, police and search crews were called to help.
Tai had used Google Maps to plot her route through Horne Lake Cave Park, but the labyrinth of logging roads made the map obsolete. “It looked like it should just go straight through,” she says. She had a flashlight and an alarm to scare away cougars, energy bars and a cell phone, but there was no service and it was growing dark.
“I thought of turning back but there were like a kazillion roads behind me,” she says. Tai followed some all-terrain vehicle tracks, but then it started snowing heavily. She climbed a slope hoping to find cell service and reactivate her GPS. As a “crazy fog” descended, her phone rang.
“It was this nice RCMP woman officer asking if I needed a ride,” she says.
A gulley blocked the RCMP and search and rescue on ATVs from tracking down Tai, so CFB 442 Rescue Squadron was called in.
Just past midnight, nine hours after her run began, helicopter lights spotted her on the hill she had been running up and down to keep warm. She lit up her reflective jacket and did figure eights with her flashlight. Soon she was winched into the aircraft. “It was terrifying,” she recalls.
Lessons learned? Don’t trust Google Maps. GPS on your cell phone can give rescuers your exact coordinates and, “I also now have a spare battery,” she says. Fortunately, she dressed for the weather and had snacks with her. “I had also given my husband the route,” she says.
Tai is back home in Vancouver training for the 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder, picking ornery routes to challenge her training.
She is definitely a woman who thrives on challenge.