Race Recap: Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k

I had such good intentions of writing this post immediately after I finished the Loop the Lakes race… but I didn’t. So instead of writing it with fresh memories and emotions, I’m writing it about a month after the fact. It’s not nearly as satisfying, but better late than never, I suppose.

A quick background: I ran Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k race last year (recap here!), though under less-than-ideal conditions: I had sprained my ankle in March, so training was sporadic and limited. Plus, it was my longest trail run ever at the time, so the intimidation factor was considerable.

This year, I had the advantage of a few good trail races under my belt from last year – not to mention the fact that I knew the course inside out, having run the same race the year before and having incorporated many of the trails on my training runs. Speaking of training – I trained for this one! Properly and everything! You can read a bit about my training here. I dutifully ticked off each and every run in my training plan, and I even incorporated speed work and hill workouts, which I’ve never officially done before.

There was only one little challenge that popped up in the months leading up to this race: I got pregnant!

When I signed up for the Loop the Lakes 21k back in the fall, I knew there was a chance I would be pregnant by the time it rolled around. I figured there was also a chance that I might not be pregnant, and if that was the case, I certainly wanted to keep up with my running. I decided to sign up because the race would be relatively early in my pregnancy and there was always the option of dropping down to a shorter distance (8k or 15k) if I wasn’t feeling up to the half.

In the end, the entire training period aligned with being pregnant, and I ran the race at 18 weeks. The training runs weren’t always pretty (lots of chafing, lots of pee breaks – I will write more about pregnancy and trail running/running in another post), but they always got done. I was very lucky to feel pretty good overall during my first trimester, and on the days where I wasn’t feeling so hot, I always felt soooo much better when I was out on the trails, even if I was going at a snail’s pace. Being in the trees and moving around always seemed to do the trick for me – though I acknowledge that this is definitely not the case for everyone. (And I did have a few very discouraging training runs – again, I’ll talk about this in another post.)

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Classic pre-race photo – check

 

 

The weeks leading up to the race were HOT – like, 25 to 30 degrees hot. Yet somehow, race day ended up being perfect: cool, overcast, and all around optimal. I headed to the start line at Alice Lake and got a good warm up walk in as I walked from the parking lot to the starting line (be sure to give yourself LOTS of time for this – I arrived at the start just a couple of minutes before go time).

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KILLER finish line food at the Nester’s tent – although the oranges were the only thing I was interested in.

Before I knew it, we were off. I seeded myself towards the back of the pack, anticipating that there was a good chance that I would be one of the last of the half marathoners to cross the finish line. As we headed out to loop around the first like (Alice Lake), another girl made a comment about being happy to let others go ahead of her – she told me her motto for this quarter of the race was “slow and easy”. I never thought about having a motto for each quarter, but I liked the thought and decided to adopt it myself.

Slow and easy seemed especially fitting since it would prevent the keeping-up-with-the-pack start line jitters – plus, I have grown to dislike running the Four Lakes Loop clockwise in Alice Lake Provincial Park, and this motto would get me through it in one piece. I’m not sure why I don’t like it – I think it’s because I have run it a few times too many and it has just enough incline to be runnable, but annoying.

Anyway, I took it slow and easy through this first section of trails and found myself thinking that the small uphills weren’t as horrible as I’d anticipated. I pulled over at the same porta potty I stopped at during the 5 Peaks race for a pee break (for those doing the math – I was also pregnant during the 5 Peaks race), then got ready for the second quarter of the run.

The second quarter is actually my favourite part of the run – I love the technical parts of Entrails and the flowy, downhill Roller Coaster and Lumberjack segments more than anything. I had run these trails a ton during training and I surprised myself when I was able to pass a few people on some of the more technical bits. At this point of the race, I was feeling great – though I knew it was still early on. Still, rather than focusing on how things might start to hurt in a little while, I decided to enjoy feeling great while it lasted.

 

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These extremely unflattering spandex shorts are the only warm weather bottoms I have that currently don’t cause extreme chafing.

When I popped out of the bottom of Lumberjack, I adopted a new motto for the third quarter of the race: keep your head down and run. This part of the race features the Around the Rock section that I remembered from the previous year as being pretty uphill – zapping any evidence of a runner’s high that might have developed on Roller Coaster and Lumberjack. This was actually the only part of the race that I hadn’t covered in my training runs and, indeed, it did have lots of uphill and I certainly slowed down. The reward was none other than my beloved (not) Jack’s Trail – mostly the same section that is covered in the 5 Peaks race, where the incline is slight but relentless.

Throughout this section of the race, I felt like I was running alone – I saw virtually no one else out there, aside from some course marshals. This was fine by me – I did the vast majority of my training runs by myself, so it was nothing new. Besides, I was still feeling pretty good.

At long last, I found myself back at Alice Lake Provincial Park – but the race wasn’t over. I now had to run the Four Lakes Loop counter-clockwise for the fourth and final quarter. My motto for this leg: dig deep. The end of the race is so often where the wheels start to fall off, and in this race, us 21k runners actually run against a stream of 8k runners for part of the stretch. The 8k runners got to tackle a fun downhill, which for me was a slog of an uphill. But I knew that once I got through the uphill, it would be relatively easy until I crossed the finish line – mostly flat and downhill, woohoo!

I didn’t need to dig to deep after all (though I did take one more porta potty stop, for good measure). Overall, I was feeling pretty good – far better than I had for either of the two 19k runs I had done in training.

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Finish line fun

When it was all said and done, I crossed the finish line in 2:33:09 – placing me 26th out of 42 women. More importantly, I beat my time from last year by more than 21 minutes – at 18 weeks pregnant, to boot!

All in all, it was a great day. The runner’s high lasted me through the entire weekend. I was proud of having felt so good throughout the entire run – and I was really, really proud of all those training runs I had completed, even on the days where it was the last thing I felt like doing. Having a race like this was exactly the motivation I needed to get outside and get moving – two things I hope this future baby likes to do, too!

5 Peaks Alice Lake Race Recap: First Race of 2018 in the Books!

I am pleased to report that the first race of the season was a great success!

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Don’t mind our colourful wardrobe choices…

Cedric and I volunteered as course marshals last year at the 5 Peaks Alice Lake race, and as a thank you, we received a free into any 5 Peaks race. We saved it for this year’s iteration of the race and had a fantastic time on our respective courses (Cedric did the 8.5k sport course, I ran the 13k enduro course).

This was my second race in the 5 Peaks series, but it had been years since I ran my first one (which was up on Blackcomb mountain).

Logistically, the race was very well run. We picked up our race packages the day before at Capra, so we didn’t feel rushed to get to the start line on Saturday morning. Still, we left with plenty of time because parking at Alice Lake can be finicky. The pre-race email was very clear about parking; it advised to give yourself lots of time and noted that those who carpooled would be rewarded with the better parking spots.

Since we were only two in our car, we parked down by the highway and prepared ourselves for a long-ish, uphill walk to the start line. Luckily, we were able to hitch a ride up with another car – in the end, we only ended up walking 10 minutes or so to the start.

As the kid races were underway, I made my way to the queue for the porta potties. It was longish, but moved steadily and I made it in and out with a good 10 minutes to spare before the start of the race.

The enduro runners got a head start over the sport runners. The two courses start out the same for the first 4 or 5 km, so this gives everyone a good chance to space themselves out a bit. To help ease congestion on the trails even more, we seeded ourselves into different groups. Each seed took off a few minutes apart. I hung back, starting with the last group – speed wasn’t my goal for this race.

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I spy Cedric! Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

I should mention now that despite a nasty weather forecast, the weather was PERFECT. It was cloudy and cool for the most part, with the sun peeking through every so often. I saw people in shorts and tanks, and I saw people in down vests. It was that perfect in between weather. Despite a few days of steady rain leading up to the race, I didn’t find the trails to be too muddy at all. I had expected the worst weather-wise, but it ended up being just fine. I love when that happens!

The first part of the race takes you clockwise along the Four Lakes Loop. At this point, everyone was trying to find their place in the pack – there was a lot of passing and leapfrogging, but it wasn’t too bad. Things cleared up quite a bit as we approached the wide, flat stretch (where you hang a right to continue onto Four Lakes, rather than going left onto Bob McIntosh). I no longer felt like I was fighting for a spot as there was plenty of space.

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I like this photo because I’m such a ninny about running on the wooden parts when it’s wet – I always look down. Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

Despite my pre-race porta potty visit, I had to pee again – but I knew there were a couple of outhouses along this stretch of the trail. The first one was occupied, but the second one a little further down was free. There’s a race hack for those who are stuck in a long line as the race is about to start – if you can hang in there for a few km, you can visit the on course toilets!

Shortly after the toilets (and aid station) is when the two courses split off. The enduro runners go for an additional loop along Tazer, Rupert, and some other trails. I happen to think that this loop features some of the most fun trails to run – I would definitely recommend it if you’re torn between the two distances. It starts of with a bit of uphill (still runnable, if you’ve got plenty of steam in your engine), then continues on to some fun, technical stuff with plenty of cool bike features.

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Solid game face from Cedric. Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

The trail opens up at Tracks from Hell, which has a nice wooden bridge/platform section (I always like running these for a change of pace). Eventually, the course merges back and for a short section, you run a part of the course that you already covered a little earlier. It gives a bit of a sense of deja vu.

Shortly after, the course takes you towards Credit Line. I run Credit Line all the time, so I was looking forward to the long stretch of technical downhill. If you’re not used to the trail, this section can be tricky – I saw plenty of people taking their time, and I totally understood why (after all, this is the trail I sprained my ankle on last year!) I was feeling pretty good the whole way down and eventually, I was spat out onto Jack’s Trail.

I feel like Jack’s is an underrated menacing little bugger. It’s “just” a green mountain biking trail and it is pretty even and non-technical, compared to a lot of other trails in the area. But it slopes upward juuuust enough to tucker you out, especially at the end of the race. It also seems to go on forever and everything kind of looks the same.

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Luckily (or not), I run Jack’s often, so I have certain landmarks I like to look out for to break up the monotony. From Credit Line, you pass Mid Life Crisis on your left – they had a couple of marshals here, which was nice for a morale boost. A little while later, you pass 50 Shades on your right – when you hit this point, know that the distance between Mid Life Crisis and 50 Shades is about the same distance as 50 Shades to the finish line. In other words, you’re almost there.

The nice part about the course is that pretty much as soon as you’re done with Jack’s, you’re right at the finish line – no need to run around Alice Lake or anything.

So that’s the course (I wrote it out for any 2019 or beyond runners who want a detailed preview – sometimes I like to look up race reports to get any idea of what I’m in for).

In terms of how I felt, in a word: GREAT! Without getting into too much detail, I have been running a lot for the past couple of months (gearing up for my Loop the Lakes 21k race next month), but I have been pretty conservative with speed. That’s saying a lot, as those who know me know that I’m not much of a speedster to begin with. My goal for the race was to push myself comfortably (oxymoron?), to maintain my energy right to the finish, and to really enjoy myself.

I feel like I succeeded at all three! I love the racing environment, and even though I am generally not very competitive (unless it involves board games), I like the rush and extra push I get from the people around me. I felt strong and steady the entire run, so I feel like I paced myself perfectly. I crossed the finish line feeling great – and then I stuffed my face with sliced oranges from the snack tent. I ended up running it all in 1:45:32 – kind of mid/back of the pack, which is about what I expected.

Cedric is not usually much of a runner, but I’m glad he joined me for this race and I think he did really well. We celebrated our respective finishes with a hearty breakfast at the Crabapple Cafe in Brackendale. The home fries are to die for.

All in all, 5 Peaks Alice Lake was an awesome experience. I’ll be back next year – whether as a volunteer or racer is still TBD.