The Squamish Days 8K Run, Take Two

Though I haven’t been much of a road runner as of late, the Squamish Days 8K race has a warm place in my heart. I ran it last year and I loved the community vibe. I was also surprised about the stacked field of competition. Of course, that was before I knew that everyone is Squamish is only a step or two away from being an elite athlete (at least, it often feels that way).

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Going into this year’s race, my goal was to beat last year’s time of 41:44. That was a pretty fast time for me, but I thought I’d have an edge up this year because:

  • I’ve been running more this year than last.
  • I’ve also been hitting the gym more – I feel stronger overall.
  • I sometimes (probably not often enough) do speed work in my running. Sometimes is better than never, which is how often I did speed work last year.
  • Last year, I ran the Red Bull 400 the day before the Squamish Days 8K. This year, I did not.

Those were the things I had going for me this year. Things I did not have going for me included:

  • The fact that the air has been very smoky here in Squamish for the last week or so, and the air quality is not so hot right now.
  • The reality that although I am running more often, I very rarely tackle roads.

I’m pleased to say that the strengths outweighed the weaknesses, and not only did I beat last year’s time by almost 2 minutes, but I also cracked my goal of 40 minutes. Clocking in at 39:55… yours truly!

This placed me 5/14 in my age category, 20/77 for the women category, and 58/148 overall – three cheers for being in the top half!

I’m pretty proud of this because I don’t think I’ve ever run a 4:59 km pace … like, ever. At least not over this distance. I downloaded a most random playlist of songs strategically chosen for their beats (think Hey Ya, Footloose, Lose Yourself… definitely an odd mix) and tried to keep my feet moving with the music – and it worked! It kept me feeling motivated, even though I don’t usually run with music.

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This year, I stuck around for awards and prizes at the end. It was absolutely worth it – not only for the delicious watermelon, but also because I won a snazzy water bottle. As luck would have it, that was not the only thing I won on this day… stay tuned.

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So what do we think – can I spin these wheels even faster in 2018?

Hitting the Reset Button with Mother Nature

Summer in the Sea to Sky is so fun that it stresses me out.

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Note to self: be more like Moose. All photos by the very talented (and handsome) Cedric.

Even with the extra-long days, there simply aren’t enough hours to do everything you want to do. I want to say yes to every Facebook invite. I want to tackle every hike within a hundred miles. I want to go for ice cream with every visiting friend. I want to do it all!

It’s the best problem to have: too much fun stuff, and not enough time to do it all (without neglecting basic hygiene and, you know, working). It’s silly to admit to myself, but when my schedule is as full as it is – even if it’s packed with fun stuff – I get overwhelmed.

I’ve found that the best cure for too-much-fun-itis is spending a little one on one time with Mother Nature. A recent camping trip gave me the much-needed opportunity to put everything – laundry, work projects, my floundering fantasy baseball team – on pause.

With the usual distractions removed, there was nothing to do but take in the views, explore the lakes, catch up with friends, and watch the adorable Moose do her thing. We didn’t go far and we weren’t out for long, but it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and for a little while, time seemed to stand still.

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Moose ❤ Photo by Cedric

Except at night – at night, time seemed to move verrrrry slowly because I was so flipping cold and couldn’t thaw out my feet. Got to keep it real here.

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Photo by Cedric – and taken while I was already in the tent trying to thaw myself.

I very much needed this little weekend getaway to remember that fun is supposed to be fun, not stressful. I know the endless gray November days will be here before I know it, so I’ll enjoy the over-committed sunshiney days while I’ve got ’em.

Happy weekend!

Down the Meadow of the Grizzly Trail (Spelhxen tl’a Stl’lhalem)

I’ve written about the slow and steady climb up the newly expanded Stl’lhalem Sintl’ trail up by Quest University – now, let me introduce you to the brand spanking new down trail: Meadow of the Grizzly.

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Up, up, up.

On my first lap up and down this zone, I opted to avoid this trail because I wanted to get down as quickly as possible, so I chose to take the black diamond Upper PowerSmart trail to Skookum. That was kind of silly, because Upper PowerSmart is steep with lots of small rocks on the trail that force you to take it slow when you’re descending it on shoes, not on bike. Time-wise, it’s probably equal to take the blue-rated Meadow of the Grizzly, which is less technical and consistently runnable.

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Views on the way up – decidedly less smokey than my last Legacy climb

 

 

 

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… and the same views a week later when the smoke had returned.

If you’re tackling Meadow of the Grizzly – either on foot or on bike – you’re probably reaching it by way of Stl’lhalem Sintl’. Grizzly is basically the climb trail in reverse.

 

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First, you’ll hit winding dirt switchbacks similar to the ones at the end of the climb, only steeper. A runner can fly down this section. I’m not sure about a biker – I read in TrailForks that it’s not necessarily intuitive to navigate yet on two-wheels, and I did note a small section that was taped off (i.e., “DO NOT TRY TO JUMP OFF HERE”).

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(Note: I realized on the way down that the trail intersects with the climb trail part of the way down. I may be tempted to cut off the final upper portion on future runs.)

 

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Once you emerge from the switchback forest, you enter some trails through the block cut- similar to what you encountered halfway up the climb trail. This is the section with the epic views – and, this time of year, the epic wildflowers. You can stick to the wider log road, or take some single-track shortcuts (which is what I opted to do – the signage was still up from the Hot on Your Heels race, so I followed that course). The trail here – at least when I’ve run it during this rainless summer stretch – is dry and dusty.

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Finally, you hit the access road that takes you through the Pseudo-Tsuga trail. The incessant switchbacks through the brush are not dissimilar to the early sections of the climb trail.

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You may want to visit this bench (logging road bus stop?!) for a quick mid run/bike nap.

Is Meadow of the Grizzly fun? I suppose every trail runner and mountain biker has their own interpretation of what makes a fun trail. For instance, my favourite trail to run is Roller Coaster – so smooth, so snakey, soooo fun. Others may not agree with me.

I would say that Meadow of the Grizzly isn’t necessarily THE MOST FUN, but it’s varied enough to keep your interest piqued and enjoyable because you can just point down and give’er. It’s not overly technical and it does a good job of getting you from the top to the bottom. You can kind of just turn off your brain and go. The wow-factor is in its distance – it covers a whole lot of ground very efficiently.

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I imagine they’ll be developing plenty of more trails in this zone now that trail access has been established, and some of these future trails will probably be more “fun”. Grizzly is accessible to most – if you’re good enough to ride or run all the way up the 12k climb, you’ve probably got the stuff to make it down in one piece. At the top of the trail, there’s a sign saying it should be treated as a “dark blue”, which is accurate.

If you’re on a bike, you probably want to take it slow the first time down. You can pick up a lot of speed on this trail – but the sharp curves are a-plenty, so control is key.

I’ll be honest – this loop is a bit of a long slog for me. I’ve learned that it’s a lot more enjoyable on rested legs (versus day-after-a-leg/glute-workout legs… I won’t be making that mistake again). It  sure as heck beats running on the treadmill at incline.

 

Why Pretty Pictures of Nature Make Me Nervous

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little overprotective.

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Photo by Cedric

I want people to get outside, connect with nature, and enjoy themselves. I really do.

But when I see trash along the sides of trails or read stories of ill-equipped hikers using up SAR resources, I’ll admit that part of me thinks, “Just stay home, folks! You’re hurting yourselves and others. You’re hurting nature.”

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Photo by Cedric

Case in point: the River of Golden Dreams, a.k.a., Whistler’s worst-kept secret. I wasn’t actually aware that the ROGD was a “hidden” gem – I just knew it was a lot of fun, but that too many people get trashed and cause trash on the river and/or end up freezing their butts off when the Explorer 100 pops (rookie mistake – invest in the 200) and they end up stuck in water that is as cold as ice (or glaciers, if you want to get technical).

The Resort Municipality of Whistler recently released a tongue-in-cheek video inviting people to have fun on the river, but to be smart about it. I applauded this reasonable precaution.

Then – a day later – the Daily Hive Vancouver shared a photo of the river with a caption proclaiming it as a “must visit” lazy river. Hundreds of comments followed (e.g., “@friendnamehere, want to try this next weekend? It’s in Whistler!”).

Now, this would be no big deal if these new visitors a) staggered themselves so as not to overwhelm the fragile ecosystems of the river; b) followed the beloved pack-it-in-pack-it-out mentality; c) floated the river safely and soberly (or at least soberly enough to avoid making dumb decisions). Unfortunately, experience tells me that this is usually not the case.

To their credit, it looks like the Daily Hive has since removed the post (or at least I’m not able to find it). But I’m sure there were a few folks at the muni banging their heads against their desks when they saw the post.


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Photo by Cedric

It’s a little concerning that when I thought about blogging these photos from a recent hike I went on with friends, I hesitated. It’s not one of the “big” local hikes (The Chief, Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Wedge… do I even need to mention Joffre Lakes?) that, as evidenced by crammed parking lots and littered trails, have been discovered by the masses. I worry that if I give details about this hike, it will go the way of the Joffre – and I’ll be partially to blame.

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Photo by Cedric

This feels silly. First of all, it’s not MY hike. I don’t own the land and I didn’t build any of the trails. Second, there’s plenty written about the area online – heck, we used posts written up by other people to do our own recon. Third, have I not posted in excessive detail about other hikes before? Four, if I’m so worried about it, why post about it at all?

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I guess I just want to share Cedric’s wicked photos of our beautiful neck of the woods with the folks who read this blog (i.e., my family). I do encourage people to play outside and appreciate the beauty of the Sea to Sky – but to do so smartly, safely, and sustainably (ooh… that could be a tourism board motto!)

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Photo by Cedric

Northwest Territories Nostalgia, Part II

In case you missed it: I started recapping our Woods Explorer adventures in the Northwest Territories here. Check it out to find out how various strangers saved the day at the start of our trip down (part of) the Mackenzie River, better known as the Dehcho.

We woke up at our campsite on the outskirts of a little town called Fort Providence, hoping that the weather today would be a little more cooperative than it had been the day before. It did look a bit better – less stormy, though still pretty windy. We decided to give ourselves a few hours before making the call of whether or not to officially start the journey.

We really, really wanted to get going. For one, Fort Providence was cool, but it was tiny. We didn’t have a car to get us out of the campsite, and we were getting a little bored. Plus, the canoe rental company folks were going to pick us up down the river in Fort Simpson in 8 days time. Delaying our trip any more meant we’d really have to hustle to get there in time.

Around lunch time, we made the executive decision to start paddling. Conditions weren’t perfect, but they were better than they’d been the day before and we were itching to start. The lady working at the campsite gave us a lift back to the boat lunch. Mercifully, our canoe was still there.

In theory, paddling the Dehcho sounded pretty easy. Any time you’re paddling down a river, you’ve got the current giving you a little help, right? WRONG! Not the Dehcho – at least, not this part of it. The wind was blowing very strong. If we lifted our paddles out of the water, the wind would push us backwards – it was much stronger than any current.

We aimed to camp on a little island the first night, which meant straying from the safety of the shore. This made me nervous. I was sitting in the bow and the canoe was doing some serious bobbing. Sometimes, the boat would rock in such a way that the nose pointed down and the water would splash up and over – I was sure that we’d tip. Thankfully, we didn’t, and after an afternoon of tough paddling, we made it to our island, set up camp, ate some food, and hoped for nicer weather the following day.

I was so, so, so, so relieved to wake up to blue skies. Let me tell you – the weather did NOT cooperate with us on this trip, and this was the only full day of sunshine we had. But it was the most important day, weather-wise, because at this point, the river widened into Mills Lake, which is notoriously tough to paddle in bad weather. We’d been advised to paddle along the opposite shore, so we made our way over. It was shallow – very shallow. The tips of our paddles grazed the muddy bottom with every stroke. There was thick grass on either side of us and we’d been told not to try to go towards the middle of the lake, or else we’d get stuck. So we paddled forward – and it got shallower and shallower.

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Good old Mills Lake.

 

I was starting to get nervous. (Are you noticing a pattern yet? I was OFTEN nervous on this leg of the trip). There were points where the canoe itself was touching the mud below and we used our paddles to propel us forward, rather than making actual strokes. I pictured ourselves getting stuck, having to turn around, and having to retrace our steps entirely. And they said paddling the Mackenzie would be “easy”!

I was extremely relieved to make it past Mills Lake.

The days blur together after Mills Lake. The landscape was pretty, but very monotonous – it didn’t change one bit for many, many days. It felt raw and wild in a way I’d never experienced before. It wasn’t at all like the wilderness of BC or the Rockies. It was wide, flat, muddy, and heavily treed. The trees on either side of the massive river were so dense that it was difficult to imagine anything beyond them other than more trees.

Since it was late August, we escaped most of the bugs that plague the area earlier in the summer. It was cold – I wore a toque and gloves almost all the time. The gloves helped keep my hands functioning. They were so, so dry, and I constantly squished a finger between the boat and my paddle or bumped on something that would make my knuckles bleed.

The paddling was, in a word, relentless. For several days, we continued to battle the stronger-than-the-current wind. The scenery never changed, and what looked like a short little section on the map actually took hours to paddle. Since the landscape looked the same, it was very difficult to tell where we were on the map. We often thought we were further along than we really were – only to take a closer look once we were at camp and realize that no, we were still waaaay back here on the map.

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Camp life.

Speaking of camping, there were no actual campsites. For hours, we’d pass sections of the shore that were far too narrow for setting up camp. Eventually, we’d pull over after we were took exhausted to continue, seeking anything that looked flat-ish and wide enough for us to safely separate our cooking and fire area from our sleeping area.

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The good kind of wildlife encounter. Photo from Woods Canada.

The distance between the two areas was necessarily to prevent wildlife encounters. We were extremely careful about keeping our cooking areas clean, sealing all food and smelly stuff into our barrel, and tucking the barrel underneath the canoe, which we kept far away from our tent. The reality was that we were very exposed to wilderness – and it was out there. We saw wolf tracks everywhere in the sand/mud at our various camping spots. Sometimes, we’d even wake up to see various tracks (not wolves, thankfully) that hadn’t been there when we’d gone to bed the night before. I was strangely at peace with the wild animal aspect. I figured that we were definitely the intruders in this scenario, and if one really wanted to kill me and have me for dinner, then that was a fate I was willing to accept. “Here lies Magee, who was mauled by a pack of wolves on the shores of the Mackenzie River” – I mean, that’s a pretty epic way to go.

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Here lies Magee… Photo from Woods Canada.

The wildlife didn’t wear me down – but the weather did. Aside from the sunny day crossing Mills Lake, every day was cloudy, windy, cold, and sometimes rainy. Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – was caked with mud. I would scrape out the bottom of the canoe with my paddle, scooping out thick and heavy mud without making a dent on the mass of mud covering the boat. Everything was damp all the time.

Talk about character building.

It was hard – but it was also amazing. By now, Cedric and I worked as a perfect unit. When one of us was feeling demoralized, the other would boost him/her up. He didn’t complain when I needed to pull the boat over to pee. I didn’t complain when he stopped padding to take photos. We knew our roles at camp – we’d pull in, Cedric would start working of fire/boiling water/making food, while I set up the tent and our sleeping stuff. We functioned like a well-oiled machine – it was a real partnership.

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Breakfast on Day 2 before tackling Mills Lake. I can tell because the sky isn’t an angry shade of grey. Photo from Woods Canada.

We ate alright, too. The first few days were pretty luxurious – we even got to enjoy eggs for breakfast. We had the luxury of carrying a great big barrel of food with us since there were no portages to tackle. I’d picked up most of our food back in Hay River, and even though it was August, they already had Halloween candy on display. We ate a lot of chocolate. At 10 o’clock every morning, we’d devour our Clif bars (almond fudge for Cedric, chocolate mint for me). I’d watch my little purple wristwatch like a hawk, counting down the minutes ’til Clif time. I’m not sure if I was actually hungry or just very, very bored.

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This sums up day to day life on our Mackenzie trip, but I’m approaching 1,400 words, so let’s stretch the NWT adventures into a third post for another time…

Race Recap: Comfortably Numb = The Most Fun

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the Comfortably Numb Trail Race has already come and gone. June 10 seemed soooo far away for the longest time – then all of the sudden, it was just around the corner. I didn’t really have time to get excited or scared or anxious about the race. That’s probably a good thing.

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The weather forecast for race day looked iffy (rainy cloud image in my weather app). The more detailed overview said clouds in the morning and rain in the afternoon, so I thought we might be in the clear. But on my drive up to Whistler the morning of the race, it started raining a decent amount. Drats. It was also pretty cool (about 7 degrees when I left the house, with a high of 13 degrees later in the day). The most challenging thing about this kind of weather is deciding whether to wear shorts or leggings. After much consideration, I wore the latter (though I brought along a pair of shorts to be safe).

I’m pleased to report that a) the rain stopped shortly after it started and stayed away the ENTIRE race, and b) the leggings were totally fine for the race (though I’m sure I would have been okay in shorts, too).

I realize this is a lot of weather talk, but I’m just so happy with how it turned out because it ended up being my favourite running conditions: overcast, cool, and dry. A race in Whistler on June 10 can go any way. If it had been hot and 30 degrees, it would have been tough on some of the non-shaded parts later in the race (especially because the race started relatively late, around 9 AM). It had apparently been rainy and muddy the year before, which makes for a slippery course and is, in my opinion, way less fun. So three cheers for the weather. Hip hip hooray!

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Views observed while killing time at the start.

I was curious about this race because, as the name suggests, it follows the notorious Comfortably Numb mountain biking trail between Wedgemount and Whistler Village (though this race ended at Nicklaus North). Seriously – when I mention Comfortably Numb to mountain bikers, their faces go pale and they tell me stories about how they did it once, and never again. Mostly, I’ve never traveled that part of Whistler by anything other than car, so I thought it would be fun to explore some new trails. My research indicated it would be technical trails, mostly single track, and that it would gradually go up up up for the first half to two-thirds, then down towards the end. The distance was curiously pegged as “23k+”. I’ve heard it range anywhere from 21k to 25k. My little app put it closer towards the 21k end of the scale, but let me tell you – it felt infinitely farther than my Alice Lake 21k.

Logistically, this race was A+++. I parked as instructed by the RV park in Spruce Grove and caught the free shuttle to the start line at the base of Wedge. Bib pick up was quick and easy. They had a “soft start” time of 8:30 for anyone who thought they might need more than 4 hours to run the race. As always, I had no idea how long it would take me, but I decided to risk it and start with the main crowd at 9 AM. Everything got started on time, and we were off.

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Start line shenanigans

The race starts off on an uphill gravel logging road. You guys – I was at the VERY BACK. Zero people were behind me. That was humbling, but I guess I really take the “don’t start off too quickly” thing to heart. Quite a few people ended up hiking the steep bits near the start (including the 18% grade part!) so I ended up in the general “back of the pack” crowd rather than at the literal back. That was kind of nice.

The rumours are true: the race really does go uphill for a long, long time. I’d been told that the trail is very runnable, and that’s partly what makes it quite difficult: they’re flat enough to keep on running, but steep enough to tire you out (especially after 13k+ of uphill). I definitely did not shy away from hiking anything that felt on the steep side. See, I tried running some of the steeper ups, but I found that if a person was ahead of me and walked the steep part, I wouldn’t gain on them even if I was running/shuffling. My running was literally the same speed as hiking, so I figured why waste the energy?

Eventually, the runners became more and more spaced out. Around 1:30 into the run, a guy was close behind me and I offered to let him pass. He didn’t pass, and we ended up running together and talking for about half an hour. Poor guy – I pretty much told him my life story, including the minutiae of my curriculum vitae. He had recently bought a second home in Whistler, so we talked real estate for awhile (my favourite!)

I can’t decide if running and talking is good or bad for a race. In this case, I think it was good – at this point in the course, the uphills were getting tedious and the scenery was pretty similar, so being able to talk was a bit of a distraction.

Around the 2:00 mark, something weird happened. I’d been completely alone with the guy for a little while – we hadn’t seen anyone ahead or behind – but all of the sudden, about three people came from behind and passed us. The guy joined them (I should mention that he told me he’d literally run 100 ultramarathons in the past, so I didn’t really feel bad that he was faster than me). I was left in their dust and put my head down to get back into the solo running zone.

It was wonderful to pass the sole aid station around km 12.5 (I can’t remember if I made that distance up or if someone told me that). I didn’t actually stop to use anything, but I knew that although the climbing continued after the aid station, it wasn’t for too much longer. That was a good thing, because I already felt pretty tired. It was kind of funny to think that the fastest racers were already close to the finish line at that point. But also kind of not funny.

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Some super swaggy swag, which I will tell you about later if you keep reading this very long post.

After the aid station, the trails opened up a little and became more technical. There was lots of rocky running – it reminded me a bit of parts of my Pukaskwa hike (minus the views of Lake Superior). The trails continued up and up and up until eventually, there was a clearing that appeared to be the top. There was a bench conveniently located to take in the view. I so wanted to sit down for awhile (and by sit down I mean lie down and nap), but on I went.

As it turns out, that wasn’t the official top – but it was pretty close. Not long after, I hit a sign that said “Comfortably Numb – Descent”. I definitely hollered.

The down was technical and tiring, but sooooo infinitely better than the uphill. A lot of it was exposed (as in not in the forest), so it would have been a slog if it had been hot and sunny. I focused on keeping my brain sharp and watching my footing, as there were tripping hazards everywhere. Believe it or not, I even passed a few people on the downhill, which meant I probably wouldn’t finish dead last – yay!

After a little while going downhill, my feet started feeling… well, comfortably numb. Maybe even uncomfortably numb. Parts of the trail were really rocky, and landing on pointy rocks kind of hurts. I felt some rubbing on both of my big toes, which wasn’t ideal, but then I remembered that the quicker I ran, the quicker I’d be done. I should be a motivational speaker.

Eventually, I saw a guy on the trail. There hadn’t been any marshals on course (just the people at the aid station), which was no big deal because it was very well flagged. I recognized the guy from the Helly Hansen dryland training sessions I used to go to when I lived in Whistler (I highly recommend these, by the way). At that moment, he looked like a glorious angel – he told me there was 2.7k left to go.

He conveniently neglected to mention that shortly after I passed him, the trail would go uphill for a bit. Thankfully, that didn’t last long – it became less technical and more flat soon thereafter. I started seeing a few mountain bikers, which meant I was close to civilization. Seriously, you feel like you’re waaaaay out there on the trail. It was nice knowing I was close.

I hollered some more when I saw a sign announcing that there was only 1k to go. It felt like a very long k, but sure enough, the trail eventually spit me out at the finish line 3 hours, 42 minutes, and 6 seconds after I’d started. Was I happy with this time? Well, the short answer is heck yes. That was a really long and challenging run for me, and I was so happy that I still had energy and a smile on my face right up to the finish line. I can sincerely say I enjoyed myself and had fun. Looking at times from previous years, I guessed I’d roll in somewhere around 3:30, so 3:42 wasn’t horribly far off. It put me towards the back of the pack (83/104 overall, 45/61 for women), but that didn’t really bother me.

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Photo: Rob Shaer

Sometimes I wonder if writing race recaps as a slower person is a reasonable thing to do. To be honest, it can feel like the accomplishment of running the race isn’t as worthwhile as the accomplishment of the person who came 1st or 15th or whatever. But then I remember that I ran the exact same kilometers as they did – my feet ran (or, let’s be real, sometimes walked) the same terrain theirs did. There’s no shame in being on the slower side, right? I’m on the slower side of a group of people who feel like running ~23k of tough terrain is a reasonable thing to do on a Saturday morning. That’s a good group to be part of, no matter where you finish in the pack.

(Email me for my rates as a motivational speaker).

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Best. Finish. Line. Snacks. Ever.

The finish line was DOPE! Here is why:

  • It finished outside the Nick North clubhouse. Classy!
  • Finishers got this super rad Helly Hansen hat that makes me feel 33% cooler than I actually am.
  • FINISH LINE FOOD. ICED CINNAMON BUNS FROM HOT BUNS. NEED I SAY MORE?
  • I won a draw prize – a Helly Hansen base layer top. Winning is the best.
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#Winning

I feel pretty confident in saying that I will be running this race again next year. Goal: have as much fun as I did this year.

Race Report: MEC Lower Mainland Trail Race Three, 15K

The MEC Lower Mainland Trail Race (the third in its series) was a somewhat impulsive addition to my spring and summer racing schedule. When I heard about it, three things made me want to sign up:

  • At 15k, it was just the right distance for an achievable challenge (there’s also a 55k course) a week ahead of the Comfortably Numb race (which appears to be somewhere between 23 and 25k).
  • I thought it would be fun to run in West Vancouver, for a change of pace.
  • It only cost $15 to run.

Sunday morning, I made the easy drive down to Ambleside Park, picked up my bib, and ran my little heart out.

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The perfect place to shake off pre-race jitters.

I was not familiar with the course at all. I’ve never run any trails in West Vancouver. I’d looked at the map on the website, and it appeared to be an out and back with a little loop about halfway through the course. The elevation didn’t seem too crazy, though all those ups and downs supposedly summed to a total of 693m up and 695m down (my RunKeeper app pegged it at 412m up, but I don’t know if I trust it entirely.) As you can see, it looks like the first half of the race goes up-ish, while the second half goes down-ish.

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Based on this information, I came up with a strategy of starting slow and mellow in the first half, then exploding back through the downhills of the second half.

I seeded myself towards the mid-back of the group at the start line, which meant I couldn’t really hear the announcements that were made. I caught that we were to follow the yellow flags, then I crossed my fingers and hoped that the trail would be well marked. Thankfully, it was, and they had course marshals pointing the way at key zones – though most of the course was pretty straight, so it would’ve been hard to get lost.

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Views from the Start Line

We were off.

I quickly threw my strategy out the window, because I didn’t really know how to execute it. Instead, I just aimed to run it like one of my regular runs: walk the longer or steeper uphills, run the flat bits, and book it on the downhills. It turns out that my strategy didn’t really come into play until a few km into the run, because the first part of the course was very flat – a mix between roads, paved trails, and gravelly stuff. There was a small section in some pretty mellow trails, then we were spit out onto a non-technical trail that reminded me a bit of Jack’s: long, straight, and just slightly uphill (enough to make it not that enjoyable).

Meanwhile, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was starting to get hungry. Breakfast from 3 hours ago wasn’t cutting it, so I decided to eat my beloved Kewaza ball pretty early in the race (maybe 4-5k in). No regrets there.

I eventually got into the heart of the trails, which I found to be very non-technical – no roots, rocks, or Squamish-y elements – and nicely rolling. There were a few short ups that I walked, but mostly it was very runnable and actually quite fun, with lots of bridges. It wasn’t until about halfway into the race that things started to get hilly – but when they did, they went VERY hilly. I can’t remember exactly how it went – I think it was long hill up, loop, run down that hill, up another REALLY LONG HILL, then back down again. Because the trails weren’t too technical, they were very easy (and fun) to run down. A few people passed me on the ups, but I gained on a few on the downs.

I also gained a bit of time at the aid station. It seemed like most people stopped there, but I BYOed fuel. This was kind of nice because I was now running around different people. One of the things about races that I can’t really “train” for in my runs is the mental aspect of racing against other people. It’s really hard not to compare yourself to others – to try to match Person A’s pace, or pass Person B, or not let Person C’s heavy breathing behind you get to you. The comparisons didn’t stop, but it was nice for Persons A, B, and C to have different faces.

The run back was nice because I knew what to expect, since it was the same as the run out. As always, I felt challenged by the balance of running fast without burning out too soon. Has anyone mastered this? Can you tell me the secret?

We got back to the road/paved/mellow part of the course around KM 12. I was really putting a lot of effort into running – I didn’t feel like I was spent or anything – but other people had more gas in the tank, and people started passing me. By now, we were pretty spaced out, but I would still guess that 8-12 people passed me between KMs 12-14 (some were in pairs). It’s so hard not to get discouraged by this.

Then, with about 1k left in the race, I got pooed on by a bird! I can only remember this happening once before in my life. Luckily (?), it got my bare arm, so I just had to kind of scrape it along the grass – but the gross feeling lingered. They say that getting bird pooed is lucky, and I actually didn’t get passed at all between the poo incident and the finish line.

Speaking of the finish line, it was a horrible tease – I could see the MEC arch in the distance but it looked like a mirage. It didn’t seem to get any closer. And yet, eventually, it came. I ran through the finish line, straight to the bathroom to soap up my arm.

mec-trail-run-2

The start/finish zone

The night before the race, I decided to check out last year’s finish times to try to set a time goal for myself. Last year, the fastest woman finished in a most impressive 1:12:20. The slowest few were 2:44, and the median was 1:45:46. Most women seemed to finish between 1:30 and 2:00, so I set a goal to finish sometime in there – I definitely wanted to duck in before the 2:00 point.

So How Did I Do?

My final time was 1:47:41 – exactly where I hoped to finish! That put me 51/109 for the women in this year’s race, and 13/31 for my age group. I’m actually very happy about this – for me to be on the slightly faster side of average is great! I’m in awe of the first place woman who ran the course in 1:13:39 (I can’t run 15k on the ROAD that fast!).

Here are my splits, for those who care (a.k.a. me when I run this again next year):

  1. 6:04
  2. 6:11
  3. 6:35
  4. 6:35
  5. 7:47
  6. 7:58
  7. 7:39
  8. 10:23 (this is where the massive uphill was)
  9. 6:19 (and this is where we got to run down it)
  10. 7:36
  11. 8:11
  12. 5:48
  13. 6:46
  14. 6:24
  15. 6:17 (bird poo power)
  16. 5.52 for the last little bit.