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.
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.
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 gravel 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.
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!