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.

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.

Volunteering at Survival of the Fittest (i.e., An Excuse to Write a Running Post)

Baking bread is not the only thing I do in my spare time – but you wouldn’t know that by looking at my blog. To balance things out a little, I figure I’m due to write another post about running.

Upcoming Races

I got a little caught up in recovering from my sprained ankle and diving into a short but sweet training session for the Loop the Lakes 21k – and I kind of forgot I have another race that just so happens to be in TWO SHORT WEEKS! How did that happen?! I haven’t done a lot of longer runs lately, so I’ll try to squeeze a few in the coming week so I’m not totally in over my head for the Comfortably Numb Trail Race on June 10.

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Views from a lookout on a recent run with the Timber and Tor running groups at Capra

I’m also planning on running a smaller (I think – I don’t know much about it) 15k trail run in West Vancouver next weekend. I haven’t registered for it yet and I haven’t look too much into it, but it sounds like a fun thing to do… so why not, right?

Volunteering

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Views from bib pick up – what what!

The good news is that I’m doing plenty of race day mentality training by volunteering at the local races. This weekend, I volunteered at Survival of the Fittest (part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series), which took place right here in Squamish. I had some pretty glamorous volunteer roles: bib pick up and timing.

I’m not being sarcastic – these roles are way cooler than marshaling. First of all, there’s lots of action. I was right at the start/finish, which was pretty exciting. It dawned on me that I’d never actually been around the finish line when the winners run through it – I’m always rolling in waaaaaay later. It turns out, there are no fireworks – it’s actually a little bit quiet for the first few finishers just because there aren’t as many people hanging around yet. The buzz really starts when a few dozen people have already crossed the finish line.

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A mediocre photo of the not mediocre view at the end of the race

Next weekend, I’ll be volunteering at the Be Fearless race around Alice Lake/Quest University (it’s a long one – 11k, 21k, or 42k). I’ll be doing my thing as course marshal. I think I need to find a cowbell.

Current Plans

Current plans: keep on running. Don’t die at Comfortably Numb. Keep all toenails.

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(I’ve never actually lost a toenail. I think it’s because I trim my nails a lot and wear shoes that fit properly.)

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.

The Lakes Have Been Looped: Race Recap of Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k

Woohoo! I did it!

When I signed up for the Loop the Lakes 21k back in November, I had no idea what I was in for. A long, snowy winter; an ankle sprain leading to a 6 week running hiatus; a 5 week period to get on my feet and train for my first trail half marathon. But everything came together and I had such a wonderful race day.

In the week leading up to the race, the forecast called for a rainy day, which wasn’t ideal but hey – a little rain has never stopped me before. Miraculously, race day ended up being my dream running weather: cool, but warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt, and party cloudy.

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We rolled into Alice Lake around 7:30, and there was heaps of parking (always a mild concern at Alice Lake). The race started at 8, so I got my bib and my sweet swag (a Run Squamish hat that I am currently wearing) and sat in the sun doing my pre-run ankle warm up moves. Super cool. You needed photo ID to pick up your bib, which I didn’t know – luckily, they accepted my Facebook profile as ID. The future is now!

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Just before 8, I joined the small mass of people at the starting line and saw my running buddy, Olivia. Olivia and I have run a couple of times together at the Capra group runs and agreed to run this race together. It was her first trail race – she only started running six months ago, which amazes me. In the past few weeks, I have been so concerned that I would slow her down, but in the end we were a perfect pair.

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The race started and everyone took off – FAST! The Loop the Lakes race has 3 distances: 21k, 15k, and 8k. It dawned on me that most of the serious/fast long distance trail runners in this race would probably opt for the longest distance, which meant that we were up against some speedy folks. Luckily, neither of us really cared about where we placed, so we started off towards the back of the pack and let everyone else run ahead.

I can’t really give a play-by-play of what happened, because we chatted the whole entire time and so I wasn’t focusing much on the race itself. It was wonderful. I thought I was going to walk every single uphill on the course, but I actually found myself tackling some of the easier ones because I was so lost in conversation. The first loop of the Four Lakes trail went swimmingly, and before I knew it we were an Mike’s Loop and then on to Entrails.

Things were really going in fast motion from here. Entrails felt way quicker than it did when I ran it on my own, as did Roller Coaster and Lumberjack. From there, we took a detour to Jack’s that involved going up some rocky steep zones. This was a slight energy zap, but we quickly got onto Jack’s.

Jack’s went amazingly quickly. I was really confused because the trail was looking like it does towards the end, near Alice Lake Park, but I thought there was no way we were already that far. I even asked Olivia if she was sure we were on Jack’s. I didn’t notice my usual landmarks (like seeing Credit Line and 50 Shades along the way). I honestly couldn’t believe it when we were spat out at Alice Lake. We only had one more loop to go and we’d be done.

The last loop was a little tougher – it was weird because we were now running against the grain for those doing the 8k, like salmon swimming upstream. Olivia’s legs were starting to feel it, so I blabbered on with stories to keep us distracted. We finally crossed over from the Stump Lake side over to the Alice Lake side, and for a brief moment, I thought we still had a lap around Alice Lake to complete – but I was just confused (again) and the finish line was actually right in front of us.

I had NO idea how long this race would take me. My road half marathon times have ranged from about 1:56 – 2:10 (minus the Fail Race), but that definitely doesn’t translate into trail running times. Earlier in the week, I ran 18k in 2:45, so I though the very fastest I could do 21k was 3 hours, probably closer to 3 and a half if the weather was iffy or if I was feeling off.

I was stoked to cross the finish line at 2:54:40. While this didn’t earn me any awards (I came 32/37 women for the 21k distance… but hey, only the fastest ladies were running this distance, right?!), it DID earn me a massive plate of nachos from the Shady Tree.

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Can we talk about these ‘chos for a second? The only time I’ve had them before was after my marathon. I remembered them being amazing, but I wasn’t sure if that was just because I was so exhausted from the marathon. I can now confirm that they really ARE amazing. In my opinion, NOWHERE in Whistler makes good nachos. The Shady Tree has it dialed in: the ingredients are real/delicious; they’re layering skills are impeccable; and they have a tortilla at the bottom to catch all excess toppings. I call this the nacho triple threat. Squamish clearly has Whistler beat in the nacho department.

I finished this race feeling pretty strong – my legs felt (and still feel) really good, we ran at a super mellow pace (very much conversational), my spirits were high the entire time, and I did not have a single ankle problem. I’m very excited to run my other races now – I think I can step it up and challenge myself a little more by faster and maybe working on hills, now that I know I can handle the distance. As long as I continue to feel healthy (touch wood), I think this will be a very fun summer of running.

I ended up signing up for a shorter (10k) trail run around Lost Lake in Whistler next weekend, so that might be a fun distance to try to speed things up a bit. For now, I’ll wear my Run Squamish hat and bask in the post race glory. Ahhh.

My 2017 Running Goals/Races

Living in Squamish means that I am spoiled with countless trail races to choose from – if not in my own backyard, than either up the road in Whistler or down the road on the North Shore.

Luckily, my running goals for 2017 are all about trails, so this is perfect.

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Random running photo from my “Coming out of running retirement” half marathon. I trained for it in five weeks! PS Does anyone else prefer to run with their shirt tucked in?

I went into 2016 with absolutely 0 running goals. Actually, that’s not true – I’d signed up for the Whistler Half Marathon 10k route, but I had to transfer my registration because I was out of town working on the Woods Canada campaign. When I returned from that, I ambitiously signed up for 3 races: the Red Bull 400 (because it sounded cool), the Squamish Loggers Day 8k (because it was local, inexpensive, and a totally runnable distance) and the Boundary Bay Marathon (because I was on a roll in signing up for races).

The marathon was not a New Year’s resolution or even a bucket list item – it was just something I decided to try. That ended up being the Great Running Accomplishment of 2016.

Earlier this winter, I made a list of all the trail races I was interested in running. There were many of them, especially in the summer months. After considering my fitness levels, my budget for races, and my ability to recover from other races, I narrowed it down to three: the Loop the Lakes 21k, Helly Hansen’s Comfortably Numb, and the Squamish 50 23k.

Before we discuss each of these, let’s talk specific goals. My main goal doesn’t actually involve doing any running; I want to volunteer for at least one race per month. That gives me the chance to participate in the race buzz, get a feel for the event’s vibe (to see if I want to run it some day), plant some roots in the local running community, and get a few free t-shirts and granola bars.

In terms of racing goals, I’ve never aimed to be the fastest, so I’m not going to start now. My goal is really to get outside, explore the local trails, stay healthy and injury-free, and gain a little confidence on running trails.

On to the races.

Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes Trail Run

This will be my first race of the year, but it’s not until May. I’ve run around Alice Lake a good bit (remember this post I wrote the first time I ran there?) and I absolutely love it. I hope that my sort-of familiarity with the trails helps ease me into the trail racing world.

There are three distances in this race: 8k, 15k, and 21k. I signed up for the 21k. I know it will be a challenge (I think my longest trail run to date was 18.5k – in snow no less), but I figure it’s not much harder to run 21k than it is to run 15k. I hope I’m right.

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I’m not sure of the exact elevation but it doesn’t look too bad – two notable ups and the biggest range is from about 100 m to about 400 m.

Helly Hansen’s Comfortably Numb Trail Running Race

I haven’t actually registered for this race yet, but I plan on doing so before the price bump on February 1st. I have never run Comfortably Numb and it has always been very daunting for me (just from things I’ve heard from mountain bikers who have a love-hate relationship with it). I am sort of intimidated by it, which is exactly why I want to run this race.

I used to run once a week or so with Lululemon’s run club in Whistler and we often hit the Lost Lake trails. These are (sort of) my old stomping grounds and I anticipate some satisfying feelings of elation once I finish this one – hopefully in one piece. It is somewhat longer than Loop the Lakes – 23+ km (why do they put the plus sign? It makes it scarier!) – but the vertical gain is 800 m, more than double Loop the Lakes. Yikes. Luckily, most of the ascents take place in the first half, so I should be able to survive by just rolling down the trail for the second half.

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This one is not until June, so I’ll have a month or so to work on those hills after my first race.

The Squamish 50 (but the 23k course)

After volunteering at last year’s race, I knew I HAD to run it this year. I’m not quite up for the 50k distance yet (nor the 50 mile distance, nor the combo 50/50 distance), but this one feels like a big, legendary race and I can’t wait to take part of it. Taking place towards the end of August, this will probably be my last race of the season. In all honesty, this is the one I’m looking forward to the most.

This race is notorious for being tricky – even the 23k route has a 1,000 m ascent (but a 1,200 m descent).

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In short, I am super excited for my trail running goals. (I may also do the Logger’s Day road race if they are running it – ayooo, pun – again.) I have to admit that everything seems daunting right now – doable, but daunting. I’m not going into these races with any major training plans, but right now I’m aiming for a well-rounded routine that includes:

  • 2 longer trail runs per week
  • 1 shorter run per week (e.g., running fast on the road or doing hill repeats by myself)
  • 2 gym days per week
  • 1 yoga per week (at least)
  • All the fun activities I can fit in – snowboarding, cross country skiing, hiking, etc.