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!

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.

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!

The Official 2017 Magee Running Awards

My goal is really to get outside, explore the local trails, stay healthy and injury-free, and gain a little confidence on running trails.

This is a self-quote from a blog post I wrote nearly a year ago, where I laid out my running plans for 2017. I mostly succeeded in my overall goal, though I failed a little on the “stay healthy and injury-free” side of things – but I’m exiting 2017 in one piece with seven races under my belt (or, more accurately, my running vest). I’d call that a win.

To cap off a season of running, races, and physio visits, I thought I’d get a head start on award show season and celebrate some of my greatest (and not so greatest) running moments of the year.

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Best Race Swag

Overall, this was a positive year for race swag. There was good swag (hats!) and less good swag (so many – too many – drawstring bags), but one race’s swag really stands out: 5 Peaks Alice Lake.

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I didn’t even run this race, but as a volunteer, I got to take home a pair of the neon orange running glove/mitten combos that has become a staple of my winter running wardrobe. Two mittened thumbs up for 5 Peaks Alice Lake!

Best Event to Volunteer At

I volunteered at several races this year (even a mountain biking one!), but the Squamish 50 takes the cake. I volunteered at the package pick up for the 50k, and it was unbelievably well organized. There vibe is positively electric and it was fun matching race bibs with IDs from around the country, continent, and indeed, world. A+ experience.

Best Runner’s High Moment

My spirits were never higher than they were as I finished the Comfortably Numb race in June. I’m not sure why I loved this race so much – I wasn’t particularly fast and there was nothing really out of the ordinary, but I loved running point-to-point on unfamiliar trails, and cruising downhill for the second part of the race was just so, so fun.

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I loved this race and I hope to run in again in the future.

Most Humbling Race

The Squamish 50 23k KICKED MY BUTT. The horrible extra hill detour I took from accidentally veering off course certainly didn’t help.

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This was just a tough race for me – the toughest I’ve ever run. I still can’t figure out if it was because I undertrained or was just having an off day (it happens), or if it is due to the tricky terrain and unforgiving uphills towards the end. I finished the race feeling extremely humbled.

Most Satisfying Race

The Squamish Days 8K was a personal favourite. I love this small local race – it’s a straightforward out-and-back road race and I squeaked in under the 40 minute mark.

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For someone who tends to sit comfortably on the slower side of the middle-of-the-pack in trail runs, it’s fun to be able to run a fast race on the roads. I’m proud of this one!

2017 Trail of Distinction Award

After exploring many of the trails around Alice Lake and Garibaldi Highlands, I proclaim Roller Coaster the recipient of my favourite trail award. I don’t know what it is – it winds so perfectly, meandering up and down (but mostly down) through the beautiful woods without too many death traps to trip over. I love it!

2017 Trail of Terror Award

The first few months of 2017 consisted of awful icy patches, but no section terrified me as much as the bridge by the waterfall on Covenant. On one bitterly cold run, we almost wiped out as the slanted wooden slats were transformed into a wipe-out zone of black ice death. Even in perfect conditions, I STILL cross this bridge with great caution and hesitation.

Best Food

Hands down, the tastiest and most random finish line food were the Hot Buns Cinnamon Buns at Comfortably Numb. Hey – maybe they had something to do with my runner’s high?

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Most Satisfying Impulse Race

I initially only had 3 races on my agenda for 2017, but I signed up for another 4 races on relatively short notice. My last race of 2017 was the Boundary Bay Half Marathon. Just shy of two months out, I decided to take a break from trail running to focus on roads for a bit.

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My training wasn’t pretty (see: injuries and more gym time than running time), but the race ended up being a lot of fun and gave me the extra push I needed to end the year on a good note.


As 2017 comes to a close, I’ve started thinking about my running goals for 2018. I haven’t solidified anything yet, but I already know it’s going to be a tricky year. I’ll be away for some of the big races of the year (including Comfortably Numb and the Squamish 50), but my goals include trying a few new races, running a road race in another province, and enjoying many sunny days on the trails enjoying the smell of hot trees (my favourite smell ever).

Happy trails!

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!

The Sea to Summit Trail – Better than the Chief?

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I have a confession to make: I don’t love the Chief.

That’s not quite true – I love looking at it a lot, but I don’t love hiking it. I get the appeal: it’s a good workout, it’s relatively quick (especially if you’re only after one peak), and the views are highly rewarding. But I find the climb to be a bit of a mind-numbing slog and the exposed parts at the top always make me nervous – I get a feeling of vertigo looking down over Squamish and the Howe Sound. So, I do the Chief from time to time, but I don’t love it.

A hike that I do love is the Sea to Summit trail. And now that I have a Sea to Sky Gondola pass (rejoice!), I can do it whenever I want and catch a ride back down for free. Here’s what I love about it:

  • It’s just the right amount of hard. There’s lots of climbing, but there are plenty of flat bits (and even a few dips) to break it up.
  • Hiking it is like playing in a jungle gym. Swinging through trees, clambering up rocks, skipping through sections of roots – there’s lots of variety, and it’s all fun.
  • The timing is just right. I walk/ran it (walked up the steeps, ran through the flats) in about 2 hours. That’s long enough for me to feel like I got a solid dose of nature, but short enough that I can still put in a full day of work.
  • The reward factor is extreme. Your prize for getting to the top: awesome views, food and beverages if you please, and an easy (and scenic) ride back down the gondola.

If you haven’t done the hike yet, read on for a brief recap.

The first part of the hike consists of the first 15 or 20 minutes of the Chief climb (hence my comparison of the two trails). This is my least favourite part – it mainly consists of stepping up wood stairs, stone stairs, even stairs, and uneven stairs. It’s not unlike the Grouse Grind.

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After a little while, a little sign points you towards the gondola. This is where you leave the Chief trail behind – and, in my opinion, the trail becomes a lot more fun. Instead of going straight up, it starts to meander a little bit.

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Getting lost on the Sea to Summit trail is not an issue. I like to imagine the trail marking meeting: “How many trail markers do you think we’ll need, Bob? A hundred?” “Double it. And double it again. You can never have too many trail markers.” Seriously – there are so many trail markers on this trail that it’s alllllmost ridiculous. If you don’t see one within three seconds of seeing the last, you start to feel a little panicky. But I have to admit it makes it easy and very tourist friendly.

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Relatively early on in the hike, an ominous sign warns you that the trail is about to get really real – so steep you’ll need ropes to help you shimmy your way up. While it is true that there are a few rope assisted sections to contend with, I’d argue that the first 20 minutes is the hardest part. The rope sections are short and not exposed in the least (yay for me) – they’re more fun than anything else.

 

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There are a few noteworthy points of interest along the way. Passing under the gondola lines is novel (be sure to wave if you see anyone floating by). Getting to the falls is a treat, and there’s a nice slabby lookout as you get closer to the top. But really, if you take the time to look around, the whole thing is pretty gorgeous. The trees are tall and lush and green and it just smells so darn delicious – it’s the kind of sight that you can start to take for granted if you’ve lived in Squamish for awhile.

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In my opinion, the closer you get to the top, the easier the trail feels. At one point, it widens to an old logging road – there’s a longer, but easier option that continues along this road if you’re feeling it, or else you can go the shorter (and steeper) regular route. The trail picks up a bit and once again becomes steep right at the end, but that’s when you know you’re almost there.

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Suddenly, the trail opens up and you can see the gondola up ahead – shining like a sweet little beacon. You’ve made it! If you don’t have a pass, you can pick up a download ticket for $15. You can make it worth your while by taking your time to explore at the top.

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I imagine this trail can get a little crowded, but I got an early start on a weekday and I saw exactly two other people: a couple in the first 10 minutes of the hike (on the Chief portion). Otherwise, I had the place to myself – not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

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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.

Down the Meadow of the Grizzly Trail (Spelhxen tl’a Stl’lhalem)

I’ve written about the slow and steady climb up the newly expanded Stl’lhalem Sintl’ trail up by Quest University – now, let me introduce you to the brand spanking new down trail: Meadow of the Grizzly.

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Up, up, up.

On my first lap up and down this zone, I opted to avoid this trail because I wanted to get down as quickly as possible, so I chose to take the black diamond Upper PowerSmart trail to Skookum. That was kind of silly, because Upper PowerSmart is steep with lots of small rocks on the trail that force you to take it slow when you’re descending it on shoes, not on bike. Time-wise, it’s probably equal to take the blue-rated Meadow of the Grizzly, which is less technical and consistently runnable.

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Views on the way up – decidedly less smokey than my last Legacy climb

 

 

 

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… and the same views a week later when the smoke had returned.

If you’re tackling Meadow of the Grizzly – either on foot or on bike – you’re probably reaching it by way of Stl’lhalem Sintl’. Grizzly is basically the climb trail in reverse.

 

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First, you’ll hit winding dirt switchbacks similar to the ones at the end of the climb, only steeper. A runner can fly down this section. I’m not sure about a biker – I read in TrailForks that it’s not necessarily intuitive to navigate yet on two-wheels, and I did note a small section that was taped off (i.e., “DO NOT TRY TO JUMP OFF HERE”).

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(Note: I realized on the way down that the trail intersects with the climb trail part of the way down. I may be tempted to cut off the final upper portion on future runs.)

 

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Once you emerge from the switchback forest, you enter some trails through the block cut- similar to what you encountered halfway up the climb trail. This is the section with the epic views – and, this time of year, the epic wildflowers. You can stick to the wider log road, or take some single-track shortcuts (which is what I opted to do – the signage was still up from the Hot on Your Heels race, so I followed that course). The trail here – at least when I’ve run it during this rainless summer stretch – is dry and dusty.

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Finally, you hit the access road that takes you through the Pseudo-Tsuga trail. The incessant switchbacks through the brush are not dissimilar to the early sections of the climb trail.

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You may want to visit this bench (logging road bus stop?!) for a quick mid run/bike nap.

Is Meadow of the Grizzly fun? I suppose every trail runner and mountain biker has their own interpretation of what makes a fun trail. For instance, my favourite trail to run is Roller Coaster – so smooth, so snakey, soooo fun. Others may not agree with me.

I would say that Meadow of the Grizzly isn’t necessarily THE MOST FUN, but it’s varied enough to keep your interest piqued and enjoyable because you can just point down and give’er. It’s not overly technical and it does a good job of getting you from the top to the bottom. You can kind of just turn off your brain and go. The wow-factor is in its distance – it covers a whole lot of ground very efficiently.

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I imagine they’ll be developing plenty of more trails in this zone now that trail access has been established, and some of these future trails will probably be more “fun”. Grizzly is accessible to most – if you’re good enough to ride or run all the way up the 12k climb, you’ve probably got the stuff to make it down in one piece. At the top of the trail, there’s a sign saying it should be treated as a “dark blue”, which is accurate.

If you’re on a bike, you probably want to take it slow the first time down. You can pick up a lot of speed on this trail – but the sharp curves are a-plenty, so control is key.

I’ll be honest – this loop is a bit of a long slog for me. I’ve learned that it’s a lot more enjoyable on rested legs (versus day-after-a-leg/glute-workout legs… I won’t be making that mistake again). It  sure as heck beats running on the treadmill at incline.