MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish Race Recap

Ah, yes, the succinctly named MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish trail running race — I ran that!

This race took place a few weeks ago in my own backyard. I took part in a 15K MEC trail race last year in West Vancouver, but for reasons I cannot remember, I had to miss the Squamish stop on the MEC trail race circuit.

This year, I had the race on my radar, but I held off signing up for awhile because the date coincided with my leap into the third trimester of pregnancy and I just had no idea how I would feel. Luckily, not only are the MEC races outrageously affordable ($15 – which includes a timing chip and all that), but unlike many races, prices don’t go up as you get closer to the race, meaning you can make a decision the week of, as I did.

The bulk of my runs this year have been solo, but there is one girlfriend I have enjoyed running with about once a week or so since the early days of my pregnancy. She had signed up for the MEC Race and gave me the push I needed to finally pull the trigger. There are two distances in this race: a 5k or a 10k. We signed up for the former.

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A 5k romp in the woods – no biggie, right? WRONG! We had heard that this particular course featured some serious elevation, and folks – the rumours are true! I don’t typically run around Smoke Bluffs – in fact, the only time I’ve really run there was during last year’s Squamish 50 23k, which had me cursing the never-ending uphills – and MAN, was it steep.

The 5k route is said to have about 230m elevation gain, which doesn’t seem so bad. Except the course is kind of a lollipop shape, so that 230m elevation gain is concentrated in just half of the race. Now, the first 0.5 km or so of the race takes place on a paved path that leads from the start/finish at Rose Park to the trail head at Smoke Bluffs. What I’m saying is that the 230m elevation gain basically occurs in only 2km of trail, so it’s a lot steeper than the numbers would suggest at first glance. (The 10k features an elevation gain of 410m, for what it’s worth.)

If you’ve been around Squamish this summer, you already know that it has been relentlessly hot – I’m taking 30+ degrees day in, day out with little to no rain at all. Most of my runs have wrapped up by 8/8:30 AM to beat the heat, but this race didn’t start until 9:20 (the 10k runners took off closer to 9). I was a little concerned about the heat, but it was early enough not to be atrociously bad and the shaded trails kept us pretty cool overall.

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Picking up our bibs was pretty straightforward, and we swatted tiny biting bugs until it was time to take off. I haven’t been doing much trail running since June – the road has just been easier and offers fewer tripping hazards for a pregnant solo runner – but I have to admit, it was nice to ditch the pavement for the dirt for a change. Once you enter Smoke Bluffs, the trail starts off as a not-too-steep gravelĀ  trail, then eventually transforms into a narrower, more technical dirt trail.

It climbs. And climbs. And climbs. While we were able to run some of the gravel uphill, I had to walk most of the climbing dirt bit – and man oh man, did my calves ever burn. I tried to pick up the pace whenever the trail flattened out a bit, but the breaks in the climbs were usually very short lived. There was a lot of power hiking over kms 0.5 – 2.5. This part of the run felt a lot longer than 2km.

Of course, what goes up must come down, so the second half of the race is a nice treat for those who like to careen down steeps. I took it pretty conservatively on the downs, as I didn’t want to risk twisting an ankle or tripping over a tree root. The consequences of a fall right now seem a little more serious than usual.

We didn’t do this run to smash a personal record or anything, but I have to admit that as we returned to the paved trail and tackled the last half k to the finish line, I still had some energy and I wanted to really give ‘er. But it was strange: I already seemed to be at my maximum capacity. For whatever reason (smaller lung capacity? extra weight? blood pumping all over the place?), I couldn’t seem to move any faster than I already was – which, believe me, was nowhere near record breaking speeds. I wasn’t overly bothered by this – after all, I expected to slow down as the weeks went on – but it was certainly a big shift from the St. John’s half-marathon I ran just a month and a half earlier.

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The finish line was simple but sufficient: bananas, water, and electrolyte beverages were free for the taking. My favourite part, however, was the girl who dunked a towel into ice water and mercifully wrung it out over our sweaty heads.

In the end, we ran the 5k in a reasonably respectable 46:12 (chatting the entire way – not bad!), which placed us 16th and 17th out of 39 women (not sure how we ranked overall – the results are organized by sex). For the record, the fastest lady finished exactly 10 minutes faster than us in 36:12 – just to give you an idea of the terrain we were dealing with.

So that’s how that all went down. At the beginning of the year, Cedric and I made a list of goals that hit on various parts of our lives. In the fitness/sport category, I made a goal of running 5 races in 2018. This one was #4 – and though it was pretty short but sweet, it was perfect for where I’m at right now. Besides, now I have a time to beat for next 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.

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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.