Coming Out of Hiding – Cap Crusher 12k 2019 Race Recap

It’s a live blog post!

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I am reviving my blog because I love reading other race recaps when I’m preparing for a race, and I couldn’t find many recent posts for the Coast Mountain Trail Series’ Cap Crusher. I think they used to have an 8k course and there are a few blog posts about that, but there’s virtually nothing on the 12k course that I ran this year (2019). There is also a 24k course, which is the 12k distance doubled (you run it one direction the first time out, then in reverse the second time). Hopefully, this post will help people running the course in 2020 and beyond.

This was a triumphant race for me no matter what, because it was my first race post-partum. I ran 5 races while pregnant, but I hadn’t run a race NOT pregnant since November 2017, so it’s been awhile. Here’s the Cole’s notes of my post-pregnancy running routine:

  • I had a c-section so things were slow moving for the first little while. My first run was about 2k at Week 7 or 8 post-partum – I can’t even remember exactly when it was – and it was HARD.
  • There are a lot of physical changes that happens during pregnancy and when you have a baby. I am lucky because I seem to have skipped pelvic floor issues (which can make running tricky, to say the least), but it did feel like my core was a bowl of Jell-o for awhile.
  • I followed the same training plan that I did when I ran last year’s Loop the Lake 21k, but only out to the ~13k week. I started training around the end of January.
  • Training was NOT EASY. The reality is that it is just hard to get out right now. I have to work around Cedric’s work, my work, and the baby’s napping and feeding. Running in the trails takes a long time, so I could only run on trails once or twice a week (I always ran my longest run of the week on the trails), then I would do mostly roads with a few dreadful treadmill runs when the only time I could squeeze a run in was at 9PM. (Note to self: treadmill run after lasagna dinner is a bad idea). I tried to incorporate hills on the road runs whenever possible.
  • In addition to running, I have been doing baby + mom fitness classes once a week at Storm Fitness here in Squamish, taught by Carrie from Pinnacle Fitness. I’ve been doing this since my baby was about 12 weeks, and I cannot say enough good things about the classes. They focus a lot on building a strong core and it is nice to meet like-minded women in an environment where I don’t have to worry if my baby gets fussy, needs to eat, etc.

Okay, now on to the race itself.

I have volunteered at quite a few Coast Mountain Trail Series races, but I have never actually run in one! From my experience volunteering, I know that they are extremely well-managed and that courses are well-marked. The Cap Crusher was no exception. The website is pro and a glance at the course map told me everything I need to know: the course is loopy, the end is hilly, and there are plenty of ups and downs throughout the course.

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I am extremely unfamiliar with running the North Shore trails. I ran a trail race called “My First Trail Race” in the Lower Seymour area in 2010 (I had to go back in my emails to see where this race was/when it was – it wasn’t just my first trail race, but my first trail run altogether), and then I ran the MEC Trail Series in West Van a couple of years ago. That’s it for North Shore trails for me. I’d never set foot in the Capilano Canyon/Cleveland Dam trails until today.

The trails reminded me a lot of the ones I ran in the MEC trail race. I did not find it terribly technical, at least compared to a lot of the trails in the Squamish area. There were a few finicky areas that required careful footwork (especially as the legs started to tire), but overall they weren’t too bad. I would compare it to maybe Jack’s Trail or Debeck’s Trail here in Squamish (both of which I ran a lot while training for this race, which was helpful).

However, non-technical doesn’t necessarily mean easy!

Let me rewind to the race day details. The trails in Squamish and the North Shore have been super icy and nasty due to the atypical long winter we’ve had out here. When I checked the race weather a week or so out, it looked like it was going to be wet and rainy. An early week pre-race email suggested bringing spikes. Yikes.

However, as the old saying goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The few days before the race were nice and warm, and the trails ended up being in GREAT shape on race day. A day-before-the-race email let us know we wouldn’t need our spikes after all, and aside from a couple of steps in slightly mucky bits, the trails were awesome. As a bonus, the weather was beautiful too – around 5 degrees at the start and a gorgeous, sunny day.

I did something I almost never do: I left my hydration vest behind. Since I didn’t need to carry spikes and I didn’t need tons of water as it wasn’t a hot day, I figured I could get away with a t-shirt and a light jacket and use the jacket for things like my phone (just in case), an energy ball for fuel, and my collapsible water bottle. There is an aid station at 7.5km, but all CMTS races are cup-free so you have to bring your own drinking vessel.

I was a little on the warm side, but overall I am pleased with my race day getup. I wish I had green running clothes, because a lot of people were gussied up for St. Patrick’s Day!

We got a parking spot right by the start, which was EXCELLENT because I didn’t want to have to walk too far with baby. I picked up my bib, listened to the pre-race talk, and we were off at 8:30 AM on the nose. The first part of the run is on a logging road and slopes downhill. I had seeded myself towards the middle-back of the pack, but I let my legs fly a little on this initial downhill. I know you are supposed to hold back a bit at the start, but I actually find I use less energy letting my legs windmill on non-technical downs then I do if I try to step carefully. So off I went.

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The first part of the race is great; there are lots of wonderful downhills and the ups are runnable. There are a few sections with stairs and with a couple of exceptions, I ran just about the whole thing. About halfway through the race, there is a long, straight non-technical trail that takes you all the way to the aid station at 7.5 KM. In the course map above, this is the part that requires the inset to see in its entirety. The run out is on a slight downhill, but it was hard to enjoy – because the faster 12k runners were already on their way back and so I knew I’d have to run it uphill very shortly!

I usually never stop at aid stations, but I filled up my bottle about halfway here, which only took a couple of seconds. I ate my energy ball as I started the slow and steady slog back up the long, straight trail. It felt a lot more “uphill” on the way back than it had felt “downhill” on the way down – doesn’t it always feel like that!

At this point, it started to feel like I was running the entire course in reverse – though of course, I know this isn’t the case based on the map above. I think the reason it felt like that was because the 24k runners were now on the course, so there were often people running in the opposite direction of me. This actually wasn’t as confusing as it might sound and it was virtually never an issue for passing or anything, since the trails are decently wide. The course was well-marked and there were marshals everywhere, so getting lost was not a problem.

After the post-fuel station slog, the bulk of the remainder of the course was uphill. I mostly power-hiked the ups and ran the flats (and the precious downhill sections – there were still a few of those!). Another girl let me know when we were at the 10k mark – this was a long (non-technical) hill up, and then there was a flat bit followed by lots of stairs going up. There aren’t many (any?) stairs on the Squamish trails since most of them are bike trails, so this was a little new to me. It felt Grouse Grind-y for a little bit there, or like the start of the Chief.

After the stairs, we had a nice downhill section before the last little climb to the finish. You could literally see the finish line, so the motivation to give it one last little push was there. I crossed the finish line in 1:28:05 and felt a little barf-y, but after I walked it off for a bit, I felt fine.

(I used to puke at finish lines ALL THE TIME, which is so so gross. I haven’t had this happen in like 6 years, though).

In the end, I finished 92/162, 42/91 for all the women in the race and 25/39 for women 30-39. I can’t WAIT to be in the 70+ division – hopefully I will always finish in the top 3! All in all, I am very happy with that result. The distance was just right – it felt do-able but still like a challenge. I pushed myself to the barf-feeling zone without barfing – THAT is my racing sweet spot!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stick around the finish line, as there was a hungry baby waiting for me. That means I missed out on the post-race sushi and cupcakes, but I DID get the awesome race swag: a beer and an excellent beer glass, both of which Cedric dibsed instantly.

In conclusion, I have never appreciated running – especially trail running – more than I do now that I have a baby. Time on the trail is truly precious and I really savour those moments where I get to have a little time to myself, even if the weather is gross or the trails are icy. It has been the best medicine for me – running has helped me regain my strength and fitness, feel more like my old self, and experience that sense of peace that you only get when you’re among the trees. I am really grateful that Cedric recognizes how important this is to me and does whatever he can to make sure I can get out the door whenever possible for an hour or two.

So what’s next? The Whistler Half Marathon on June 1! I have NEVER DONE THIS HALF! I have run the 10k course once and have been out of town for the run every year since. I am truly so excited – I love road half marathons because they scare me just a little bit but I know if I work hard, I can conquer the distance. Wish me luck!!!!

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 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.

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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 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!

Believe It or Not… I’m Still Running

I realize I have not posted about running in… oh, about forever.

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(Actually, I have not posted about anything in forever. I feel like so much of my day is spent on the computer for work, that lately, at the end of the day, the last thing I have felt like doing is getting back on the computer.)

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped running. In fact, I’m running a lot – typically 5 times a week these days, just about all of which is on trails.

I mellowed out my running over the winter-iest winter months, opting mainly for runs in the 5 – 10 k range and more often on the pavement than on the trails, but I picked things up again towards the end of February to start training for the Loop the Lakes 21k.

I ran that race last year and I quite liked it, but my goal at the time was mainly survival. I had never run a trail race of that length, and an ankle sprain in March seriously messed with any intentions I had for training properly.

This time, I’m entering the race with a plan. Goal #1: don’t sprain my ankle (so far so good – touch wood!) Goal #2: follow a training plan.

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I can’t remember how I found this training plan (I think I googled some combination of trail running half marathon intermediate training), but so far I like it. It is a 12-week plan, which is enough to make me feel prepared but not so much that I start to burn out.

It incorporates 5 runs a week, which is a lot for me – 3 to 4 seems to be my happy place. But 5 is doable for 12 weeks, and it has been particularly enjoyable as the weather has crept from winter to spring (and back again to winter, on some occasions). The first few runs were done with crampons on iced-over trails – but now, I’ve already run a few in shorts and my crampons have been stashed away for the season. (Don’t make me eat my words, Mother Nature!)

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Swapped snow for rain

Each week features one workout type of run, which is somewhat new to me. I’ve often tried to incorporate things like hills and speed into my (admittedly informal, to date) training, but this one really maps it out for you with specific hill repeats, track workouts (ha ha, there is no track in Squamish – a quiet road will have to do), and Fartlek sprinty-fast runs. Don’t forget to do a warm up and cool down for these guys – I typically do 15 minutes of easy road running for each.

The regular runs have a mix of distances (building to 12 miles, which is about 19k) and tell you what kind of effort to give: easy, adding strides, negative splits, tempo, race goal pace, etc. I admit that I am only adhering to the effort part somewhat – the truth is that for trail running, my race goal pace and my easy pace aren’t terribly different from one another.

There are also a couple of rest days per week – I use these for hikes, gym days, or days where I’m too busy (and/or tired) to exercise.

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I haven’t followed the daily schedule faithfully, in that I may not do the designated Monday run on a Monday, but I will make sure it gets done sometime in that week. At the start of each week, I make a check list of each type of run I’m meant to do that week. As long as it gets checked off by the end of the week, I’m happy. That way, I can plan my long runs when the weather is best, and I can squeeze in the shorter ones when my days are busier.

While I’ve felt a little sluggish and low energy emerging from winter hibernation, I truly feel my best on these runs on the trails. Sometimes I forget how pleasurable it is to breath in trees and dirt and rocks – although Cedric and other seasonal allergy sufferers might beg to differ!


Before I tackle the Loop the Lakes course, I have one race to conquer first: the 5 Peaks Alice Lake race this coming weekend. Cedric and I volunteered at this race last year, and we received what I consider to be the ultimate volunteer perk: free registration for any 5 Peaks race. I’ll be running the longer course (13.5k), and even though it may be a little soggy, I’m really looking forward to it.

Over Easter weekend, my local trail running store, Capra, held a free orientation run for the 5 Peaks course. This was perfect – my training schedule happened to call for a 13k run and I always like knowing what I’m going to run ahead of a race.

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As a further bonus, my friend was able to join me at the last minute and we both did the course together – her longest trail run ever, and my longest run in about half a year.

As a bonus bonus, Capra had hidden little Easter eggs throughout the course. Even though we stayed towards the back of the very large pack (seriously – attendance was impressive!), I was determined to find an egg of my own. For the first half an hour or so, we were too busy chatting and forgot to look for eggs. Eventually, we remembered, and I was lucky enough to spot this little white one.

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They smartly imposed a limit of one egg per person, so we set out trying to find an egg for Becky. It was nice having something to distract ourselves with when our legs started getting tired – I wish ALL of my runs had prizes hidden throughout. Such great motivation!

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Alas, we never did find a second egg, but we made it in one piece and I’m feeling excited for the race this weekend. For those wondering, my egg was redeemed for a $25 Capra gift card – a most awesome prize. Thanks, Capra, for the fantastic event (and to Altra for the waffles afterwards!)

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I don’t think I will destroy any records on the Loop the Lakes course in May, but I hope to feel strong the whole time and to enjoy the race day (which I really did last year). I think I should be able to beat last year’s race time, but you know what? I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to run it last year, and I haven’t looked it up yet. I kind of just want to run it my best this year and then compare the two afterwards. We’ll see if I can hold out.

Happy running!

Thanksgiving Weekend Finale: Capra’s Turkey and Trails Run

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Despite what my previous two Thanksgiving weekend recap posts might suggest (pumpkin pie and butter rolls), I did more than just eat over the long weekend.

Capra, the local trail running store and the hub of Squamish’s trail running community, put on a fun, family-oriented trail run this past Saturday, October 7. The run is called Capra Turkey & Trails, and it was the second year in a row that they put on the event (not bad, considering they recently celebrated their first anniversary).

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As advertised: the weather looked exactly like their promo pic (above)

I haven’t been doing a ton of trail running lately, but recent runs have included running up 50 Shades and running down Credit Line. I was relieved when I found out that the 6k trail run consisted of running halfway around Alice Lake, out on Jack’s, up 50 Shades,  down Credit Line, and back to Alice Lake via Jack’s. These aren’t necessarily easy trails, but at least I was very familiar with them.

The race was right up my alley: small and informal, but well executed. I had signed up online (the $35 fee includes a donation to the food bank), so I just had to pick up my bib before the race and I was good to go. Though the forecast looked iffy, the weather ended up being prime for a fall run: cool and overcast.

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I watched the tail end of the kids races (a 1k – the Gobble Wobble – and a 3k youth trail race), then I set out alongside 38 other runners to take on the trails. I started towards the back-ish but ended up passing a few people on the 50 Shades ascent. I ran the majority of the trail – something I definitely don’t do when I’m running it on my own.

The technical descent down Credit Line made for tricky passing. Luckily, we were pretty well spaced out by then. One dude passed me, and I passed a couple more people (mostly because they had to pull over to take off an outer layer or re-tie shoelaces – but hey, I’ll take it).

Arguably the toughest part of the course is “gentle” ascent back to Alice Lake on Jack’s Trail. This darned trail doesn’t look very daunting, but the up is just enough to be annoying – especially after having conquered the ups on 50 Shades. I made it back to the finish line in 45:15, which put me in 23rd place out of 39 runners. (Technically the last runner was the sweep guy so I’m not sure he should count…)

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Although Turkey & Trails is one of the smaller races I’ve done, they seem to have had the largest prize table of any race I’ve attended – and the best part is that prizes were drawn, not earned. That’s always good news for a middle (er… back) of the packer like myself. I didn’t walk away with either of the grand prizes (Altra shoes or La Sportiva shoes – I wish!), but I did get a snazzy, squishy Capra cup.

Will I be back next year? Heck yes! Will I be running Credit Line anytime soon? Heck no – apparently, a cougar has made it his local hang out, and he’s not that keen on sharing it with the rest of us.

Turkey & Trails – make it part of your Thanksgiving weekend traditions!

Race Report: The Squamish 50 23K Trail Race 2017

The Squamish 50 kicked my butt.

And I only ran the 23k course.

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Before I knew I was about to get my butt kicked.

I have mad respect for those who ran the 50k and 50 mile courses this weekend. I bow down to those who tackled the 50/50 (50 miles on Saturday, 50k on Sunday).

The Squamish 50 23k was my big race of the summer – the Loop the Lakes 21k and Comfortably Numb races earlier this summer were part of the build up to this run, which would be the longest and highest (1000m ascent, 1200m descent).

I think my summer fitness peaked around June. With vacations, camping, hiking, and out-of-town weddings, this summer has been fun but busy. I’ve been trail running consistently, but in a somewhat haphazard manner. Calling it training would be a bit of a stretch.

Boy, did I feel the effects of my non-training in today’s race.

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225 runners and I took off at 8AM from the start line at Quest University. The first couple of kilometers were part of the Legacy trail that I’ve been running semi-regularly this summer – this was the only part of the course that I was familiar with. I seeded myself towards the middle-back, which seemed about right. Most of the runners in my zone did the same run-walk thing I like to do up the switchbacks around this part of the race.

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I felt pretty good by the time I hit the first aid station 4k into the race. I brought my own food and drink, so I didn’t need to stop. I knew there was another uphill section after the aid station, and that was a bit of slog, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Although I hadn’t run these trails before, they were similar to those I was used to running. The uphills were pretty steep and I walked all of them, but I cruised on the flats and the downhills, enjoying the technical bits when they showed up. When I hit the “11k to go!” sign, I was feeling pretty good – though I was definitely pacing myself. I wasn’t setting any course records here.

The group was pretty well spaced out. I passed some people, but others passed me. It didn’t feel overcrowded and I didn’t feel like I was hot on anyone’s heels (nor was anyone stepping on mine). Things were going fine.

I passed the second and final aid station shortly after the “11k to go!” sign – and this is where things went wrong. I hit a downhill section, which was wonderful. I booked it down the long, glorious hill and ended up at a bridge with a bunch of kayakers. I looked to see if there were signs indicating that I should cross the bridge – but I couldn’t see any signage or flagging tape. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen any markers in a little bit.

This is the point where the kayakers informed me I’d taken a wrong turn – and that the course continued ALL THE WAY UP THE HILL I’D JUST RUN.

This was, in a word, heartbreaking. I turned around and started power hiking back, and then I saw another girl barrelling down the hill. I informed her that we’d come off course. On our way back up, we came across another 9 runners who had done the same thing. It was brutal heading back on the long, steep hill. I knew we still had a lot of uphill sections and I was so annoyed at having to use my energy on this one. I didn’t understand how it had happened.

When I finally got back up to the top, I understood. The signs clearly pointed us to the left – they’d put two pylons on the right, which was down the hill I’d taken. My brain had seen the pylons and assumed I was meant to run between them. If I’d looked up, I would have seen that the tape and markers continued down the left.

This mistake cost me energy, but the worst part was that it really rattled my mental game. The detour had taken me about 15 minutes, which is pretty significant. I tried to get myself back on track, but I couldn’t help think about all the people who had passed ahead of me during that time. Ughhh.

I had lots of time to think about it, because the next stretch continued uphill. I kind of felt like I wasn’t “racing” anymore, so I occupied myself with trying to find trash on the trail. The Squamish 50 has a cool initiative where if you pick up garbage along the way, you can redeem it for a pair of new running socks at the end. This kept my mind busy for awhile.

Eventually, I felt like I’d found my stride again. There was a long downhill section that went on for awhile and felt pretty fun.

Then came the uphill.

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That final spike doesn’t look that bad on the elevation profile. It’s very deceiving.

There is a horrible, awful, dreadful uphill portion that starts around kilometer 16 and lasts about 2.5k. It basically sucked the soul out of me. I was in a pack of five or six girls, who became my heroes/guardian angels/soul sisters. We slogged through the seemingly endless uphill sections together. Seriously – it felt like it went on FOREVER. And it was very steep. Any energy that remained in my legs was zapped. I for sure said “I’m dying” out loud at some point.

One of the girls said, “Hopefully this will motivate you – we only have 6k to go!”

In fact, it did not motivate me at all. I had NO IDEA how I could possibly squeeze 6k out of my useless lower half.

What goes up must come down and blah blah blah – but while downhills seemed fun earlier on in the race, now they were just awful. I felt two big blisters forming on my big toes, and I did not trust my legs whatsoever. I had to dig really deep here to try to keep my mind sharp and to make sure my legs were listening to what my brain was saying. It wasn’t horribly technical, but as I learned earlier this season, it only takes one misstep to cause a nasty injury.

I hobbled down the trail – and “hobbled” is the perfect word to describe what I was doing. I recognized the voice of someone I knew and chatted with her for a bit. Eventually, we emerged into the road part of the race. A sign indicated we had 3k to go. I thought, “3k – I can do that. I hope.”

I felt borderline delirious for that last little bit. I ran the downhills okay, but the flats now seemed very difficult. I tried to dissociate from my body (or was it my mind?) and made it through the park. When I hit the underpass, there was a slightly uphill bit that broke my running spell. I now began a run-walk routine: run two lampposts, then walk one. Run two pylons, then walk one.

It’s funny – last year I was a course marshal towards the finish line of this very race. I remember seeing people walking and thinking, “You’re almost there! Pick up the pace – you’re almost at the finish line!” Oh, if I knew then what I know now!

I have to admit that the course marshals towards the end did give me a little extra pep to my step (and by that, I mean I’d run three pylons, walk one). As I got close to the park where the finish line is located, the enthusiastic cheerers gave me the boost I needed to make it to the finish line.

I did it!

My time was 3:37:11. To be honest, I don’t really care about the time. I stopped caring when I made that detour. I figured, hey – my time won’t be great, but at least I’ll be able to beat it next year. I placed 163/226, 53/68 in my division (… not so good…), and 99/141 for the ladies. So that puts me around the 25th percentile. Olympics, here I come!

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This result thingy makes it look like I ran 50k in 3:37:11. So going off that, then I TOTALLY CRUSHED IT.

The finish line was awesome – after I recovered, I partook in the BBQ and enjoyed an Alice & Brohm ice cream (I volunteered at package pick up on Friday and each volunteer was given a free ice cream token). I ran into two separate girlfriends – who happened to come 13th and 14th out of the women and finished nearly an hour faster than me. They are amazing (and unfortunately in my age group – ha ha).

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Lunch of champions.

This race was definitely type 2 fun. I very much hated the second half of it. But I’m already excited to run it again next year. However, it made me realize that there is NO WAY I’m remotely ready to run a 50k race. Especially not this one.

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See you next year, you fickle and wonderful beast of race.

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.

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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.

Race Report: The Whistler Valley Trail Run at GO Fest

When I moved to Whistler back in 2012, the May long weekend was notorious for being a total gong show. High school seniors from the city (more accurately, the city’s suburbs) would come up and let loose, causing chaos around town that ranged from mild but annoying (pulling up freshly planted tulips on municipal grounds) to intense and devastating (stabbing one another to death).

However, over the past few years, the town has rallied together to make the weekend more family friendly and less, well, murdery, through GO Fest, i.e. the Great Outdoors Festival.

One of the activities during this year’s GO Fest was the Whistler Valley Trail Run. This is a small, community-oriented 5k and 10k race through the trails of Lost Lake. The race has been going on for something like 26 years, but I think this is the first time it’s been part of GO Fest.

I actually ran the race back in 2013. At the time, I wasn’t much of a trail runner, but I did like to get out and run the roads. I remember that at about 5 different points in the course, I thought I was rounding the final corner – but the course just kept on going and going. I ended up finishing in 57:14, which placed me at 27/51 overall and 14/31 in the women’s category.

The course has changed a little since I ran it in 2013, but I wanted to see if I could beat my time from four years ago. On the one hand, I am now used to running much more technical trails and for longer distances. The trails on this particular run are green and not very technical, so I was hoping they’d feel easy. On the other hand, I’m used to pacing myself and walking on uphills – not charging through as fast as I can, as I had been back in 2013.

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The morning was perfect: sunny and not too warm yet. A small crew gathered in Ross Rebagliati Park in the heart of Whistler, and then we were off.

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Unlike my race last weekend, I was running this one solo. For some reason, I felt kind of nervous – and the feeling lasted all the way through to the end of the race. I was even nervous crossing the finish line. Why?!?!

The first 2.5 k were pretty low key on a wide, relatively flat trail along Lost Lake. I tried not to book it because I knew it was still early in the race. Then, the 5k runners split off and the 10k runners ran some more mellow trails to the turnaround point by the disc golf course. The course was very well marked with pink ribbon flags and volunteers at key intersections.

After we hit the disc golf course, the trails got narrower and a little more fun to run. The third quarter of the race varied between flat and gentle (totally runnable) uphills, then it was flat and downhill for the last few k.

My goal was to run as quickly and consistently as I could without burning myself out. I haven’t actually tried to run 10k fast and non-stop since my marathon training last summer/fall, but I have done some speed type workouts on the treadmill, so I was hoping that would sustain me. I tried channeling my competitive spirit, which is virtually non-existent because I am a very non-competitive person. I had a little back and forth going with another girl – she was faster on the uphills, but I had her beat on the downhills. I had a bit of a lead on her towards the end, but the course took us slightly uphill back to the finish and she passed me within the last 500m. She ended up beating me by 11 seconds.

But my real competition wasn’t with the random girl – it was against myself, circa 2013. DID I DO IT?

No – I crossed the finish line in 59:56.8, putting me at 30/43 overall and 18/25 women. Although it was satisfying to have sneaked in under the one hour mark, I was disappointed at having run the race almost 3 minutes slower than I had four years back. But I really did give it my all, and I felt totally spent at the end. My legs are even a little sore today!

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Found some friends at the start line!

Now I have some motivation to pick up my legs a little faster on my trail runs. 2018 Magee is going to come back with a vengeance – I feel it.