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.

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.